The Mr. Nightcrawler Trilogy: Book I


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Nightcrawler
March 2, 2007, 07:26 PM
Okay, folks. Everyone's been patient enough. I finished the Welcome Back Story (http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=207390) in, what, August? It's March now. Six months have passed. You guys were so supportive that it's time to show you that I've not been resting on my laurels.

So here's the deal. As of today, I'm 28,000+ words into the Prequel, that is, Trilogy, Part One. I'm going to try to finish it this weekend; it's about three-quarters done, I think.

After that's completed, I'm going to begin the rewrite of the Welcome Back story. When it's finished, Corriea and I will work a way to re-post that. It might seem odd to repost the entire story for posterity, but there are going to be quite a few not-insignificant changes to it, now that we have a coherent plot and actually know where it's all going to go.

When that's all finished, we'll go into Part Three. I'm not giving anything about Part Three away, other than that it's going to be epic.

Now, I told everyone before that there was going to be a .PDF file, and I've gotten about a hundred e-mail addresses collected. This remains in effect; however, I'm going to wait until the Trilogy is finished, then send out the whole completed thing. But wait, there's more! The .PDF will contain, I kid you not, bonus materials! Artwork, character bios, things like that. This is turning into quite the project for me, and I've got help on it.

Correia isn't co-authoring the prequel with me. It's all me. Though, in case it isn't clear, chapters in italics are flashback sequences. These aren't necessarily arranged in chronological order. The present-tense parts of the story take place in the fall of 2003. And yes, I did actually attend the University described in the story, for three years. (By the way, Michigan Tech? Your football team sucks. Nyah! :neener: ) No, I didn't actually do any of the other stuff described in the story. Every word of this is fiction, and any semblance to any persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental, except where it's deliberate, and those people know who they are. :D

As I've said, I'm not quite finished with the Part One. But as I post the story, I'm only going to put up a chapter every few days. No more than three times a week, probably only twice, just to...well, to drag it out, to give me enough time to finish. :D

So THR, to show my gratitude for how much fun you made writing the last story, I present Trilogy: Part One.

Oh...all of these works are Copyright 2007, The Nightcrawler Group, and may not be copied in part or in full without the express written consent of the author. Offer not available in Alaska and Hawaii. Additional roaming charges may apply when outside of your network area. No purchase necessary. Void where prohibited. Yadda yadda yadda. Don't rip off my stuff, please. It's free anyway!

If you enjoyed reading about "The Mr. Nightcrawler Trilogy: Book I" here in TheHighRoad.org archive, you'll LOVE our community. Come join TheHighRoad.org today for the full version!
Nightcrawler
March 2, 2007, 07:28 PM
I stood there watching, unable to move. The huge yacht was burning as it sank. Bodies floated in the water amongst the oil and debris. I don’t know how many people had died that night, but looking down at the detonator in my hand, I did know that I had killed them.

What have I done?

Decker appeared at my side then. He clapped me on the shoulder, told me I’d done a good job rigging the explosives. He said that we only had one more job to do, and then we’d all be very rich. I couldn’t look at him. I couldn’t take my eyes off of the burning wreckage. The dock that the yacht had been anchored to was ablaze now, though the vessel itself had slipped beneath the water. I wanted to look away, but the limp bodies floating in the black water had me mesmerized. I heard Triana’s voice, but she sounded far away.

“Hopper, what did you do?” I couldn’t respond. I couldn’t look away. I couldn’t do anything.

My eyes snapped open at the horrid electronic screeching now filling my room. My hand fumbled for my alarm clock, trying to turn it off, but I succeeded only in knocking it off of the desk and onto the floor. Grumbling, I rolled out of bed, turned off the alarm, and yawned. It was cold, so I moved to the window and turned on the heater underneath it. I pulled back the blinds and gazed out over the parking lot.

It was another pale Upper Michigan morning. Pretty typical for this time of year, the sky was overcast, and it was chilly. It was the middle of October, and we’d have snow soon. Well, more snow. It’d already snowed a couple of times, but it usually didn’t stick until November. Everyone was saying that this was going to be a bad winter; I wasn’t looking forward to it.

I moved to my desk and checked my email. Not having received any, I yawned again, and made my way into the bathroom to take a shower. My neighbor, whom I shared the bathroom with, spent more time than not living in his girlfriend’s dorm room down on the first floor, so it was rare that I had to wait.

It must seem like a terribly mundane existence, I’m sure. That was kind of the idea, actually. I suppose some introductions are in order.

My name is Michael Valentine. I’m a Sophomore at Northern Michigan University, in Marquette, Michigan. My major is Political Science. I’m also a professional killer. A retired killer, actually. Valentine isn’t my real name, but it’s the one I go by now. In the three years between when I graduated from high school and when I started college, I killed many people and was paid vast sums of money to do it.

I never wanted that life, never wanted to be a killer. But God forgive me, I’m good at it.



1: Higher Education

The life of a college student is generally uneventful. You go to class, go to work if you have a job, party, take exams. It can be stressful, but only if you let it. I took Political Science because it interested me, and didn’t require a lot of math. Math was always my weakest subject, so I wanted to avoid it.

I didn’t have to go to college. I had enough money put away that I was pretty much set for life. That wasn’t the point. I didn’t particularly care about higher education. I just wanted some semblance of normalcy in my life.

Deep inside, sometimes I’d doubt my choice. It’s hard to leave behind what you really are. But memories of the past, of the blood on my hands, kept me awake at night. I’d sworn that I’d live my life quietly and in peace.

I don’t know why I picked Northern Michigan University. It was close to where I’d grown up, but not terribly so. I just wanted to be near home, I guess. I couldn’t bear to actually go home, but I wanted to be close. Besides that, it was peaceful and comparatively isolated. It was a perfect place for a quiet exile.

There had been a few interesting moments. At least once that I can recall, someone I went to high school with recognized me. That made for an awkward moment, for as far as anyone knew, I’d simply disappeared without a trace the day after we graduated. They’d found my mother’s body in my house, but I hadn’t been heard from since.

I looked different than I did back then, though. Different glasses, different hairstyle, different way of carrying myself. Plus, I had plenty of identification to verify that I was, in fact, Michael Valentine. Besides, by the time my Sophomore year had come around, people that I recognized from the past had become quite rare. There was one time that I had to drop a class that I’d wanted to take because someone I went to high school with was in it, but that had only happened once.

But today, the 16th of October, was a day like any other. It was the fall of my second year at Northern, and it was a typical gray morning. After getting out of the shower I dressed myself and collected the things I’d need for class. I put my books and my laptop computer into my backpack and zipped it up. A water bottle went in the pouch on one side, and my cell phone went into a pouch on the other. I reached underneath my mattress and removed a small revolver, a Smith & Wesson Model 642. It was a tiny five-shot .38, with a barrel less than two inches long. Loaded, it weighed less than twenty ounces, and was handy to pack around. It went into my left jeans pocket in a small nylon holster.

It was, of course, against both university policy and state law for me to have this gun on campus, much less carry it concealed. But living the life I had, gun laws meant exactly nothing to me, and I never went anywhere unarmed. Besides, if they really busted me, the fact that they’d slap me with a weapons violation charge would be the least of my worries.

Ready to go, I stepped out of my dorm room and into the hall. I lived on the third floor of Spanner Hall, room 306. Spanner Hall was kind of the grown-up dorm. It cost more, but you got a room to yourself, and it was much quieter and more laid back than the Freshman dorms. I closed and locked my door, and walked across the hall. I stopped in front of room 303 and banged on the door. It opened a moment later.

“You ready?” I asked my friend.

“Yeah,” Austin replied, stepping into the hall and locking his door. Austin was a good friend of mine with an unpronounceable Polish last name. I’d met him on a Model United Nations trip to Toronto during my Freshman year, and we became fast friends. (Getting lost together in a labyrinthine Canadian city in the middle of the night can bring people together.) He was a film student, and had a weird and offbeat sense of humor. Aside from that, we had very little in common, but I was happy to have made a friend.

Together we made our way down the stairs and out of the building. The University Center, containing a cafeteria, was just across the street from Spanner Hall, so it was a short walk. Our breath was smoky in the chilly morning, but neither of us considered it cold. In Upper Michigan, if it isn’t snowing, it isn’t cold.

Austin didn’t know that I had a gun on me, nor did he need to. Who I was, what I was, was my secret, and I told no one. It bothered me sometimes, because I had some insane stories to tell. It was hard sticking to my story year after year, living a lie, making up reasons why I never went “home”. Indeed I lived in the dorms year round, not having a home to go to. I just told people that my parents had died and I had no family. That much, at least, was true.

Besides. I was afraid that if I told any of my friends the truth, then they wouldn’t be my friends anymore. Worse, I worried that they might call the cops or the FBI or something. I’m sure it sounds almost childish, but it was a legitimate concern. Regular people tend not to react well when you tell them you’re a professional killer, however retired you may be. The fact that most of the people that I’d killed had probably deserved it would mean almost nothing.

It didn’t take us long to reach the University Center. We made our way inside, up the stairs, and into the cafeteria. Grabbing trays, we took our place in line. A few moments later, trays laden with food of questionable origin, we sat down at a table by the huge floor-to-ceiling windows and put our laptops on the table. We had more than an hour before class, and the cafeteria had wireless internet access. My computer was a school-issue IBM Thinkpad (suckpad to most of us), his was one of the fruity Apple Powerbooks that the Art & Design department got.

As we ate our breakfasts, we talked about nothing in particular; the weather, class, the incessant media coverage of the Presidential race, the war in Iraq. He showed me a short film he’d made for one of his classes, a bizarre piece about the Amish’s sinister plans to take over the world, and it made me laugh out loud. It was time to get going, though, so we put our jackets back on and headed off to class.

The class was one of my favorites, and the discussions were always interesting. I found it difficult to concentrate, though. Sitting not far from me was a girl named Blythe. She was tall, beautiful, confident, and despite the cooling weather was wearing a pretty short skirt. Austin noticed me staring at her legs and elbowed me in the ribs. He laughed when I blushed.

“Just ask her out!” Rebecca whispered, with a mischievous grin on her face. She was Austin’s girlfriend and had the class with us. He sat to my right in the crowded classroom, and she sat just behind him.

“Look,” I said, trying to keep my voice down, “I can’t just walk up to her and…hell, she probably has a boyfriend anyway.”

“No she doesn’t,” Rebecca replied, eyes twinkling. The professor apparently noticed our hissed conversation.

“And what do you think, Mr. Valentine?” he asked, eyes gleaming beneath his bushy white eyebrows.

“Well,” I said, louder so the entire class could hear, “I think their arguments are ridiculous. The electoral college exists for a reason. If we move to a popular vote for the President, then the large cities will dominate and less populous states won’t even matter. I’m sure the people in the big cities think that’d be just ducky, since their candidates would always win, but, you know, Wyoming and Utah are states in the Union just as much as California and New York are. This is supposed to be a Federal Republic, and every state is supposed to have equal standing. The last thing we need is some European-style unitary democracy.”

“Good answer, Mr. Valentine! Does anybody disagree with him?” He was grinning. He thought he’d had me, but I always more or less paid attention.

I did end up asking Blythe out after class. I tried to, at least. As I was stammering something at her, some tall young hockey player came up and put his arm around her. He was a classic college pretty boy. Apparently Rebecca had been wrong. I headed back to my dorm room, moping as I went.

So that’s how it was. My old life felt like nothing more than a bad dream, and I told myself that if I tried hard enough, I could just be a regular guy. Hell, I almost believed it.

***

I felt like I was flying. Butterflies raced around in my stomach, and in the back of my mind I knew that this couldn’t be happening, that I’d mess it up. Regardless, Mary leaned forward and kissed me.

We were sitting on a park bench, away from the others. It was a beautiful spring night, and the moon and stars could be seen clearly. Tonight was the night we’d graduated from High school, and I felt like I was on top of the world.

The school had arranged an overnight party for us at a park, followed by breakfast at an inn that was popular with tourists. The idea was that we’d be supervised and wouldn’t go off and get wasted. So far so good, it seemed, and despite the fact that everyone was sober, everyone seemed to be having a good time. As I looked into Mary’s deep brown eyes and felt my heart pounding, I knew that I was.

“I…I…that was…wow,” I stammered. She giggled.

“I’m glad you thought so.”

“Why now?” She just shrugged.

“Seemed like the right time, I guess.”

“Felt right to me.” Holy hell. It took me a second to realize that two people had plopped down on either side of us.

“How’s it going, love-birds?” Katrina asked, grinning ear to ear.

“Congratulations!” Matthew said, punching me on the arm.

“Where did you guys come from?” I asked, face flushed. Mary giggled again, and squeezed my hand. “So,” I said, straightening the awful dorky glasses I wore back then, “you guys having fun?”

“Clearly not as much as you,” Katrina said, laughing as I flushed once more. She and Mary exchanged a knowing glance; I wondered how long they’d been collaborating on this. Women…

I couldn’t remember being so happy. I had my arm around the girl I’d had a crush on since the eighth grade, and my best friends were with me. There had been a lot of rough times in my life. My parents’ messy divorce a few years earlier, and my father’s death not three months prior. But at that moment, on the night of my high school graduation, I could honestly say that I was happy. Looking back, I can’t remember what that feels like.

Nightcrawler
March 2, 2007, 07:39 PM
2: Blacklight

Later that night, I sat alone in my dorm room. It was a Thursday, the last day of class for the week for the majority of students and professors, and was as such a big party night. It was only eight in the evening, though, so the night was still young. I had been tapped to be the designated driver for a few people from my dorm. They were going out to a little club called The Matrix with plans to get hammered. I don’t drink and I had a car, so I was about perfect for the DD role.

That wasn’t going to be until about eleven, though. In the meantime I had about three hours to kill. The TV was on in my room, but it was muted. I was sitting at my desk, surfing the internet, when my computer chimed at me.

I opened my email box. There were two messages, actually. One was trying to tell me that my penis was too small and that I needed to buy their product to remedy the situation. I deleted that one, but read the other. At first, I thought it was junk mail too. It was from an email address I didn’t recognize, but had gotten past my filter. There was an attachment, which appeared to be nothing more than a picture of a sunset somewhere. Several lines of text advertised some kind of bargain vacation package. I would have deleted it out of hand, worrying that it was a virus, if not for a single word of text at the end of the email: blacklight.

I froze for a second. I hadn’t gotten an email like this in quite awhile. Blacklight is a code word. It means that the attached picture is in fact an encrypted dossier or mission packet. I had a program to open the document saved in a hidden file on my computer, so I got to work.

Like I said, at this point I was happily retired. I still kept my ear to the ground, though. I had some contacts and some friends from the old days that kept their ears closer still. It gave me an early warning system in case I needed to bug out, and let me know what was going on in the world. These kinds of encrypted communications were the only way I kept in touch with my former teammates. We’d all scattered, and most of us had assumed new identities, just to be on the safe side. Communicating through encrypted channels only gave us an extra layer of security in case one of us was compromised. In this business, compromised is usually a euphemism for dead.

Occasionally, I got contract offers. Though my real identity was a closely guarded secret, my former team, SWITCHBLADE, was quite well known in certain circles. In our heyday, we’d been hard to find, hard to track, and had cost a lot of money, but we got the job done. Kind of like the A-Team, except we hit the people we shot at. SWITCHBLADE didn’t really exist anymore, but with Decker’s death I’d assumed de facto command and kept some channels open.

The message had been forwarded to me via my friend Jeff, who now lived in California. He remained the frontman for SWITCHBLADE, and inquiries were directed through him. He had numerous contacts out there, as well as on the far side of the Pacific, so he was usually first to know when something was up. The message was brief and to the point.

//SWITCHBLADE 6: Rumor has it you are now in northernmost Michigan. Your location is why you were contacted. Event taking place soon, not far from you, need your help. Human cargo likely being transferred near you, we must intercept. Request your assistance. If we are successful we can filter them through the UNDERGROUND RAILROAD. You will be well compensated. Regards, EXODUS.//

I leaned back in my chair and blinked. EXODUS. I’d heard of them, but you probably haven’t. They only rarely operate in the United States and maintain a low profile when they do. But in many parts of the world EXODUS is regarded as a terrorist group. They are essentially modern day radical abolitionists. They use force of arms, coercion, and violence to combat the global slave trade. They’re not above assassination, extortion, and destruction of property, either. As you might imagine, they’re pretty high on the INTERPOL **** list, and many nations’ governments want them too. They operate primarily in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia, where the human slave trade was the heaviest. Rumor has it they suffer high casualty rates on their operations, but for every one that is killed, two more freed slaves are willing to take up arms and replace them.

So why do they need my help?

I have no use for human traffickers. As far as I’m concerned, slavers belong at the end of a rope. On the other hand, working with EXODUS is always a risky proposition. Like I said, they have high casualty rates. Worse, a lot of people, backed by a lot of money, want them dead. Especially after a 1999 operation in West Africa. They staged an armed assault on a huge human trafficking hub, liberated several hundred captives, and executed every last slaver and guard on site.

I closed my eyes, took off my glasses, and pinched the bridge of my nose. I was going to have to think this one over. On one hand, it was dangerous. Moreover, I was supposed to be retired. If something like this went south it could ruin everything, and I’d have to disappear again. (Which, by the way, becomes more difficult each time you do it.) On the other hand, I’m a greedy son of a bitch. But there was more to it than that. Like I said, I’ve no use for slavers. I’ve seen the human slave trade, in all of its ugliness, first hand. I wondered if this wasn’t my chance to do some good, to do something right. And…well, despite my constantly telling myself that I was happy, I was a wolf in sheep’s clothing and I knew it. There were times when I missed the old run and gun.

On the other hand, it might be a chance to get sucked back into everything I wanted to leave behind. The old run and gun is fine until you start burying your friends. Damn it. Yeah, I was going to have to think this one over. It could wait until morning, though. In the meantime, I had some drunks to wrangle. It’d do me some good to get out anyway. I backed away from the computer and headed for the shower.

A few hours later, I found myself sitting at the end of the bar in The Matrix. Loud hip-hop club music thumped in my ears. I swear, they must’ve only had one CD with about a dozen songs on it, because no matter what night you went, they were always playing the same crap.

My friends were lost in the crowd, dancing, getting drinks, and having a good time. I was relegated to the bar, somewhat bored, exiled with all of the other DDs. Sipping my Coke, I noticed a gorgeous young woman sit down next to me. She was wearing those really tight hot-pants that girls wear these days, and a backless, low-cut shirt. She didn’t order a drink, only sat there and lit up a cigarette. Swallowing hard, I leaned over to her.

“Can I buy you a drink?” I practically yelled. It was so loud in there you couldn’t hold a conversation. She leaned over towards me.

“What?”

“CAN I BUY YOU A DRINK?” I repeated, louder. She leaned away from me, and the expression on her face changed. She shook her head side to side, looking bemused. Without another word, she got up and left. Smooth, Mike. I sighed and took another sip of my crappy, watered down bar-Coke.

So this is the life you’re so terrified of leaving behind, huh? EXODUS’ offer seemed more interesting when I thought about it like that.

Brian Williams
March 2, 2007, 11:59 PM
Yeeeeee Hawwwww!!!!!, Here we go again....

Some More nice work Keep it going.
b




NC mentions it but this is the prequel or part 1

part 2 is in this thread http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=207390

Oleg Volk
March 3, 2007, 12:21 AM
Thanks for keeping this up.

RockRifle
March 3, 2007, 12:27 AM
And so it begins... The waiting for the for the next chapter... pacing the floor, glancing across the room at the clock on the desk.:uhoh:
I know he hasn't posted yet... the angst of waiting eating at me from the inside out. I just can't wait!:eek:

Cudos 'Crawler! Ya still got it!!:D :D

Bring it! :cool: We'll Wait!!

kjeff50cal
March 3, 2007, 12:50 AM
[Oliver Twist] Please sir can I have some more? [Oliver Twist/]:D :D :D

CK
March 3, 2007, 12:50 AM
Yess!!

Legionnaire
March 3, 2007, 12:53 AM
Tagged!

Excellent thus far ... and from past experience, we're in for a good 'un!

fiVe
March 3, 2007, 03:30 AM
NC!! Glad you're back! Really lookin' forward to this!!

Nightcrawler
March 3, 2007, 05:09 AM
I'd like to give thanks to a bunch of people. First of all, to our own Oleg Volk (http://www.a-human-right.com). Becuase of him letting me use his forum for my writing, my abilities have improved dramatically.

Secondly, to Correia. He, PvtPyle, and the FBMG crew have made me feel at home here in Utah. Plus, he's one hell of a writer himself. Everyone look for his book, Monster Hunter International, which should be available soon. Every single High Roader in Utah needs to visit FBMG (http://www.fbmginc.com), also. :cool:

I'd like to thank icylic, Dr. Rob, and springmom for helping with the project, proofreading, technical assistance, etc. I'd like to than sm for reading these stories to my favorite readers, the kids he helps take care of.

This is dedicated to Hawk. The real one, I mean, the old gunslinger that taught me sixguns.

Finally...since people bugged me about it before, and were then very generous, I'm going to put out the tip jar again. All of my Crawlerverse stories are, and always will be, free, but I'll gratefully accept any donations. My PayPal address is my old (no longer primary, in case you want to send me hate mail or viruses) email address, nightcrawler0000@hotmail.com.

Thank you all again. I hope you enjoy everything.






EDIT: I could post another update, but I don't want to burn through the whole story in two days. Next chapter up on Monday. :) In the meantime, everybody go read Halfast's story (http://www.ar15.com/forums/topic.html?b=1&f=123&t=483521). :D

And since everyone talks about soundtracks, THIS SONG (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UGPCUbkQ4PI) is Valentine's "theme song". The music video is disappointing in that it doesn't seem to actually have a .45 anywhere in it...

crashresidue
March 3, 2007, 05:42 AM
Cheers Nightcrawler,

Could you, at some time in your schedule, find the time to find "LawDag" - and kick him in the A** to finish "Pink Gorrilla Suit" (sp. on gorilla?) Part III?

Like your stories - you should have them published - like I'm the first to suggest this!!!! DAAHHH!

Gentle winds,
cr

Mandirigma
March 3, 2007, 09:22 AM
/runs through the checklist.


Thread Subscription....check!

Popcorn....check!

Dr Pepper....check!

Keyboard cover (anti Dr Pepper guard)....check!

...digs through box....recent keyboard receipt w/ warranty info (because keyboard cover needs to actually be on to work)....... CHECK!


ok, Green Light!

gyp_c2
March 3, 2007, 09:25 AM
...welcome back Nightcrawler...
Glad 'yer backatit...http://emoticons4u.com/smoking/rauch06.gif

Nightcrawler
March 3, 2007, 10:02 AM
3: Arrangements

“You son of a bitch!” I yelled. Decker looked as collected as ever. “We killed all those people!”

“Hopper, you need to calm down,” he replied coolly. “It’s too bad all those people got caught in the crossfire, but these things happen. Collateral damage that can’t be avoided.”

“It wasn’t a ****ing crossfire!” Triana almost screamed. “You blew them up! Hopper, why did you fire? What the **** were you thinking?”

“I couldn’t see the ****ing boat from my position!”

“A real good story, Hopper, a real…” I cut her off.

“Shut the **** up, Tri!” I turned back to Decker. “We could’ve waited until the party ended! The yacht wasn’t going anywhere! Jesus Christ, we could’ve waited. We didn’t have to kill all those people!”

“You think they were all innocent?” Decker replied coldly. “No one that associates with Federov is innocent, you naïve child! We couldn’t risk him getting away! That yacht could’ve pulled up anchor at any time, and Christ only knows when we’d get another chance! For the money we’re being paid for this one, we can’t afford to be sentimental and **** it up!”

I looked around. We were on top of an abandoned multi-story parking deck that overlooked the harbor. Below us, several hundred yards distant was a private dock owned by Federov, now engulfed in flames. Triana stood silently next to the van, but she looked like she’d shoot me dead at any time. Corwin looked shocked, and was staring at Decker. Decker was glaring at me, and it took everything in me not to flinch.

“Listen to me, Hopper,” Decker continued. “We can work this out later. We need to go now.” He was right; we had to get going. Police were already arriving at the docks below us, and the military would have the city locked down in a few hours. None of us wanted to end up in a South American prison.

“I’m not going anywhere with you!” Triana screamed again. She’d been increasingly dissatisfied with our work for weeks. Our travels through South America had been as bloody as they’d been profitable, and I guessed that the yacht had been the last straw for her.

"I’ve had enough,” Decker said, and drew his USP 9mm from its holster. “I will not tolerate insubordination. We’re getting out of here now. Triana, when we get back, you’re done. Hopper, one more word out of you and you’re done too, is that clear?”

“Hey, I…” Triana started to speak again, but froze when Decker pointed his pistol at her and thumbed the hammer back.

“I’m not going to warn you again, Tri-“ He halted when he realized that Corwin had drawn his Beretta and was pointing it at him. Everything happened so fast then, but seemed to happen in slow motion. I realized that Corwin’s pistol still had the safety on. As Decker turned to level his gun at Corwin, I began to draw my Colt .45. Corwin then realized that his safety was on and began to thumb it off.

Decker was on him before he could fire. His shot went low, the bullet plunging into Corwin’s abdomen. Corwin grimaced and stumbled back as a blood began to stream out of the wound.

“DECKER!” I screamed. He froze and looked at me. I held my pistol out, sights aligned, and shot him through the heart. He stumbled back, dropped his pistol, and collapsed to the ground.

“Triana, help Corwin!” I yelled. “TRIANA!” She looked at me then. She was slipping into shock. “Help Corwin!” I repeated. I looked around, my heart pounding so hard I could hear it in my ears. I could hear Jeff on the radio, repeatedly asking what was going on.

Without holstering my pistol, I walked over to Corwin. He was laying on the pavement, cursing and swearing as Triana dressed his wound. She looked at me wide-eyed when I approached, but continued bandaging.

“God damn it, Matthew,” I said, using his given name for the first time in ages. “You gonna be alright?” He managed half a grin and told me he needed a cigarette. I grinned back at him, and stood up again. Triana watched me, fire in her eyes, as I walked over to the wounded SWITCHBLADE 6.

Decker’s wound had caused a large puddle of blood to pool around him, and he would be dead soon. I looked down at him.

“Collateral damage,” I said, so quietly that no one else could hear, and leveled my pistol at his face.

“G…go on, boy,” he managed, sounding weak, blood gurgling in his throat. “Finish it.” His gaze was intense. My blood ran cold.

“My mother is dead because of you,” I said. Triana jumped at the noise as my pistol barked. It suddenly seemed very quiet; I could hear the brass case hit the pavement as clear as day. Triana’s face was white; anger burned in her dark eyes. Corwin had lost blood and was going into shock. Personally, I felt detached and cold, as if ice water were flowing through my veins. With my right hand, I reached to my belt and grabbed my radio.

“Attention all SWITCHBLADE elements. This is Hopper. Decker is dead. I’m taking command…radio check.”

***

I awoke with a start late the next morning. Since I was off, I hadn’t set my alarm, but I’d been having nightmares again. They were less frequent than they’d been previously, but they never went away. I rubbed my eyes, put on my glasses, and pulled myself out of bed. Once again turning on the heater to chase away the morning chill, I pulled my blanket off of the bed and wrapped it around me as I plopped down in front of my computer.

Upon checking my email I discovered that there was another message with blacklight hidden in it. I once again decoded the attached picture. It contained only a brief message from Jeff. He said that EXODUS was getting antsy, and were imploring us to hurry. Thinking it over one last time, I sent him an encrypted reply, telling him I wanted to contact them directly. One of their representatives had to come to me for the actual meeting, though. I had a quiz on Monday and couldn’t travel.

Shortly after I clicked ‘send’, there was a knock on my door. I stood up, moved across the room, and opened it.

“Hey,” Austin said, “Food?” Rebecca was with him.

“Yeah, c’mon in, lemme get my coat,” I said, turning back around. I pulled my jacket out and put it on.

“Hey, what’s this?” Rebecca asked.

“What’s what?” I replied, turning around. My heart leapt into my throat when I saw what she was pointing at. Sitting on my shelf was a long suppressor for my .45 automatic. I had taken it apart to clean it, reassembled it, and forgotten to stash it again. Getting sloppy, Mike.

“It’s…um…you know, just some pipe. I found it.”

“It looks like a silencer for a gun,” Austin said.

“Yeah! Heh! Kinda does…hey, you guys hungry?”

“Uh…yeah, c’mon,” Austin replied.

“Okay then, let’s go get some food!” I hustled my friends out the door and locked it behind me, heart racing. I was mad at myself for being so careless. The longer things go smoothly the softer you get, it seems. I told myself I’d have to brush up on my tradecraft before I ****ed up too badly.

We crossed the street and headed back over to the cafeteria in the University Center. We shuffled through line, collected our food, and found a table by the window.

“There’s a party tomorrow night,” Rebecca said.

“You going?” I asked, biting into my fish sandwich.

“Yeah. You wanna come?”

“Um…”

“We kind of need a driver,” Austin said, a little sheepishly. I chuckled.

“Naturally. Where’s it at?”

“It’s at a house way over on East Prospect.”

“Friends of yours?”

“Yeah,” Austin replied. “A lot of people from Art & Design.”

“Super.” I crammed an onion ring into my mouth.

“Will you take us?” Rebecca asked. “C’mon, it’ll be fun.”

“So you’re asking me to sully my good name by being a complicit with your illicit under-aged drinking?

“Um…yes. Yes we are,” Austin said, grinning.

“Fine. As long as that’s clear.” I laughed. What the hell, I thought. I usually didn’t like parties. I don’t drink, and often I’m the only one not drinking. That’s kind of a drag, when everyone else is wasted and you don’t have anyone to talk to. Still, though. I needed to get out and socialize more, I told myself. As it was, I was getting laid rarely enough to make it a statistical anomaly, and that situation definitely needed rectifying.
When I returned to my dorm room, I found another blacklight email waiting for me. The message was very short, stating only that EXODUS wanted to talk and giving me a number to call.

Perfect, I thought to myself. Later that evening, I ran to the store and bought a pre-paid phone card. On the way home, I stopped at a pay phone outside of a gas station, and dialed the number I’d been given.

“Yes?” The voice sounded tinny, almost artificial.

“This Is Hopper,” I said.

“This is EXODUS. It is a pleasure. We would like for you to meet face to face with our operative to discuss the terms of this contract.”

“That’s fine. He’ll have to come to me, though.”

“You’re not worried about revealing your location?”

“Seems to me you prettymuch figured it out for yourselves. Besides, I sincerely doubt you guys’ll go running to the FBI on me.” The voice laughed, which sounded very strange.

“You are correct about that, Mr. Hopper. Tuesday the 21st?”

“That’s fine. Now…” We spoke for a few minutes longer, setting up the location and time. I had one final thing to say to EXODUS, though. My demeanor instantly went from affable to icy.

“You’d better be on the level. You **** with me and all you get back is your operative’s head wrapped in foil. Do you understand me?” There was a long pause.

“Yes, Mr. Hopper. We understand.”

“Good. Tuesday, then.” I hung up.

Silvanus
March 3, 2007, 03:49 PM
Great work again! I love your stories:)

Glock22
March 3, 2007, 08:18 PM
Bravo Nightcrawler!!!!:D :D :D

Davo
March 3, 2007, 08:25 PM
Nightcrawler do you have a compilation of your stories that I can purchase?

Nightcrawler
March 3, 2007, 10:57 PM
Purchase?

Absolutely not. All of the Crawlerverse stories are free and will be on THR. If you email me with a valid email address, I'll put you on my list of people to get a compiled .PDF version of this trilogy whenever it's complete. It'll be a while, as Correia and I haven't started on Book 3 yet, but I'll do my best to make it worth the wait.

hankdatank1362
March 4, 2007, 12:02 AM
This is the first story of yours I have actually taken the time to actually read.

Very well done! Generally, I can't get into fiction, but yours is very believable.

Nightcrawler
March 4, 2007, 10:54 AM
4: Party


“Get up and do it AGAIN!” Decker yelled. Breathing hard, I pushed myself up off of the mat. I was shaky but I got to my feet. Aryeh stood there, patiently waiting for me to get my bearings. It was very polite of him to be so considerate while issuing his beatings.

Taking a deep breath, I nodded and Aryeh came at me again. He was, of course, holding back, but I was having difficulty in mastering this move. Corwin had picked it up handily, and even Triana seemed to be doing better in hand to hand combat than I. I’d never been in a fist-fight in my life, and was ill-prepared for this sort of thing.

Aryeh swung his fist out, a violent right hook. I moved, and everything happened in slow motion. As his fist came around, I dodged to the right, grabbed his arm, and flipped him over my shoulder. He landed on the mat with a loud FWAP sound and looked up at me with a toothy grin.

“Very good, Hopper,” he said. “I knew you’d get it. Now I slowed down to make it easier for you, so next time I’ll go just a bit faster, okay? The trick is to be fluid. This isn’t about strength and aggression, though those are assets.” He stood up, straightening his protective headgear. “It’s about flexibility. You use the other man’s strength against him, let him waste it trying to hit you. Then you surprise him with speed and violence. Also remember that you are a very big young man. When I’m finished with you you’ll be as strong as an ox, and you have body mass on your side. Use it. Smaller opponents may be faster and more agile than you, but you can use your size to absorb their attacks and overpower them.”

Aryeh was a former Israeli commando and Mossad agent. He made a lot more money in the mercenary business, though. Apparently he and Decker went way back, though neither of them talked about the past much.

What Aryeh did talk about was hand to hand combat. He’d been an instructor for the Israeli Special Forces and really knew his stuff. He was used to teaching out of shape kids how to kill with their bare hands, and I was doing my best to learn. It was a frustratingly slow process for me, though. Decker absolutely insisted that all of us become as lethal as possible. Even Triana, who served as our tech geek and rarely went on operations, had to learn how to shoot and how to fight.

I was a big kid, clumsy and awkward to boot. As such I presented a special challenge to Aryeh, but he seemed to revel in it. He kept pushing me to try harder and never let me quit. To emphasize that last point, if I whined about wanting to quit I’d have to move fast to dodge a boot to the gut. He was a harsh instructor, but even I was making progress under his tutelage.

I’d done much better with firearms. Hawk was an excellent instructor, even considering that before this, I’d never fired anything bigger than a .22 in my life. I’d progressed rapidly with handgun, rifle, and shotgun, and Hawk told me he was impressed. He chided me for my choice of pistol, a 9mm CZ-85B, but I liked the Czech gun and it shot well. I did okay with Decker’s CAR-15, though I really preferred the powerful .308-caliber carbine that Hawk used. Mostly, though, I shot the Chinese AK-47 they’d given me. It wasn’t nearly as nice as Hawk’s carbine or as slick as Decker’s CAR, but it was easy to use and was always reliable.

I loved the shooting. Hawk wanted me to try his revolvers, and I was looking forward to that. I wasn’t so sure about the martial arts, though. It seemed like little more than an excuse for them to pummel me, and I honestly wondered when I’d ever have cause to use what I was learning.

***

I found myself thinking that all of these college house parties were the same. I looked around at my surroundings; people had had formed into small groups and were chatting loudly. The air stank of cigarette smoke and booze, and the place was littered with brown bottles and those ubiquitous red plastic cups.

Austin, Rebecca, and I sat with a couple of their geeky friends from the Art & Design Department. Rebecca had had more to drink than Austin and was giggling loudly at everything. Austin had become incessantly chatty, and the drunker he got the more he talked. With us were two of their friends, a big guy with a buzzed head and a stubbly beard, and another kid with long sideburns and a funny little goatee. Also sitting with us was a skinny girl whose name I didn’t know. Rebecca kept looking at me and grinning. It seemed like the more this girl had to drink (her name was Trisha, I think) the closer to me she’d sit.

Holy crap, I thought to myself. I’m making time. With a girl. I was going to have to thank Becky for this later.

Our little cluster of chairs was in a corner, with a coffee table in the middle, away from the rest of the crowd. We discussed nothing of importance, but were having a good time. I didn’t know Austin’s friends, but they were a hoot. I was having a ball just listening to them go back and forth with each other.

The rest of the party seemed to be dying, though. It was about that time, nearly three in the morning. Quite a few people had passed out already, though a few still shuttled back and forth up and down the stairs. Upstairs, of course, there were rooms for having sex or smoking marijuana (or possibly some combination thereof). So yeah, it was a pretty typical college party, and I was sure I was the only one there drinking a Mountain Dew. I hate Mountain Dew.

There was one other group of people at the party that were being loud, though. That is to say, one member of the group was being loud.

“Who the **** is that?” I asked of my group, looking over at him. He was a lean, short, pretty-boy with an obnoxious voice. He was loudly discussing white water rafting or something to a group of drunk freshman girls, and he had them utterly captivated. He smoked a tiny cigar of some kind and laughed at all of his own jokes.

“That’s Cory Walker,” one of Austin’s friends said.

“Yeah,” Austin agreed, “he’s a rich kid. His dad is like some big shot lawyer down state. He has all kinds of money.”

“So what the ****’s he doing at Northern?” I asked. A fair question. NMU isn’t exactly Ivy League.

“He’s too stupid to get into Tech,” Rebecca said with a red faced giggle.

“And State won’t take him,” Austin’s other friend agreed. We all laughed.

“So he’s an Art major?” I asked.

“Sort of,” Austin said. “He does metal sculptures. It’s bad. Really, really bad.” His friends laughed again.

“He does get the girls, though,” someone said.

“I see that,” I replied, watching him. There were four girls sitting around him, red cups in hand, giggling at his lame jokes and hanging off of every word. He continued to blather on about kayaking, rock climbing, and how freaking awesome he thought he was. I rolled my eyes.

“He’s a ****ing *******,” Rebecca said suddenly. We all looked at her in surprise.

“Language, young lady,” I said, laughing. It wasn’t like Becky to swear quite so loudly.

“He wouldn’t stop hitting on me,” she went on. “I finally told him just to leave me alone, and he called me a bitch, and…”

“He what? When the ****…?” Austin cut in.

“Okay, settle down kids,” I said. “**** ‘im anyway, he’s an asshat.” I gestured at him with my thumb as I said this. That proved to be a mistake, as he was looking in our direction as I did so.

“Hey!” he yelled. I ignored him and continued sipping my Mountain Dew. I wasn’t going to get into it with this guy.

“HEY! You!” He yelled again, louder this time. The room began to quiet down as everyone sensed the disturbance. I continued to ignore him.

“HEY! I’m talking to you! Yeah, you! With the glasses! You got a ****in’ problem with me?” Everyone was quiet now, and all eyes were on me.

God damn it, I thought. I honestly didn’t know what to say to him. I was never good at situations like this. As I came of age, I had two methods of dealing with people: ignore them or kill them. I know that sounds terrible, but that’s the life of a professional bag man, and that’s the environment I grew up in. Your only friends were your comrades on your team. Everyone else was either a target, a client, or someone that would sing to the cops. So you learned to keep to yourself, and social situations were often a little awkward for me.

Cory approached, striding towards us confidently. You can tell a lot about a man from the way he carries himself, and Cory moved with an arrogant air. It was more than self-confidence; it was ego, undoubtedly bolstered by a lifetime of getting everything he wanted. He seemed self-conscious about his height, though, and tried to puff himself up. One of his girls moved with him, hanging off his arm and loudly chewing on gum. She was obviously amused by the entire situation.

“So what’s the problem big guy?” Cory said, standing over me. Big guy. I was quickly losing patience with him, and everyone in the room was still staring at me. Still, the best thing to do would be to swallow my pride and walk away, I thought to myself. I didn’t need any kind of exposure, and I sure as hell didn’t need to talk to the Marquette Police. Punching this ****** bag in his loud mouth was not the best way to resolve this, however tempting it seemed. I didn’t stand up.

“Yeah, that’s what I thought,” he said with an arrogant gleam in his eye. “You just keep your mouth shut. I’m wearing the daddy pants here.” As if to prove his masculine prowess, he took the girl in his arm and sloppily French-kissed her while grabbing her butt. A black thong was showing from the tops of her low-rider jeans, and he snapped her waistband as he came up for air. She laughed out loud at this.

“You ****ing skank!” someone yelled from across the room. All eyes shot to an inebriated young woman who had just come down the stairs. Her blond hair was mussed, and her short skirt was wrinkled. She stormed over towards Cory, wobbling on her high heeled clogs. She wasn’t focused on him, though.

“Lisa how could you do this to me?” she said loudly to the girl Cory had just kissed. She put her hands on her hips and glared at her (former?) friend. If looks could kill…

“Vanessa, I…” her friend started, but Vanessa wasn’t having any of it.

“You slut! And you,” she said, looking over at Cory at last.

“Who’s that?” I asked, leaning over towards Rebecca.

“Vanessa Tyler,” Rebecca replied. “Cory’s girlfriend. They were upstairs doing it earlier. I guess she passed out again.”

“Former girlfriend?” I asked. She was a hottie.

“I doubt it,” Rebecca said. “They do this like twice a month.” Vanessa continued to bitch Cory out, and everyone was staring at them. People were starting to laugh, and Cory was obviously embarrassed. The problem is, when people like Cory get embarrassed, they feel the need to reinforce to everyone how tough they are. I saw it coming before it actually happened, and sure enough…

“Shut UP, bitch!” Cory yelled finally. Vanessa slapped him across the mouth. The audible smack resonated through the room, and afterwards you could’ve heard a pin drop. Cory visibly fumed for a moment, then with both hands shoved Vanessa roughly. She stumbled to the floor, and my heart dropped into my stomach. Oh hell, I thought. This is gonna be a long night. I stood up.

“Mike…” Austin warned. I ignored him. I felt the sudden anger subside, replaced by the calm. I strode over to Cory, though he didn’t notice me. He was glaring at Vanessa, who sat on the floor, sobbing now.

I tapped him on the shoulder. As he turned to me, I violently cracked him upside the head with my left fist. He spun around and fell to the floor, and I stood there looking down at him. He was shocked, but his shock turned to anger when he touched his nose and found the trickle of blood there. I waited for him to get up.

He swung at me with a punch of his own. It was slow and clumsy in his intoxicated state, though, and I dodged it easily. As his arm swung past me, I grabbed with my left hand. I grabbed his left shoulder with my right hand, and used his momentum to flip him around. I brought his left arm up behind his back, bending it at an unnatural angle, and slammed Cory against the wall. I moved my right hand to the back of his head, grabbing his hair, and slammed his face against the cheap, 70s-vintage wood paneling several times.

“Calm down,” I said into his ear. He struggled some more, but all I had to do was pull on his arm and he quieted down. “I can break your shoulder or I can snap your wrist. Now you calm the **** down.” He was wide-eyed with exasperation and surprise. I held him there for a moment, and the room was dead silent, save for Vanessa’s sobbing.

“Holy ****,” someone whispered.

“This is ****in’ awesome,” someone else said.

“My dad’s a lawyer,” Cory managed weakly.

“I think you should leave,” I heard someone say. I looked over to my right. I didn’t know who the young woman was, but she sported jeans, a tie-dyed t-shirt, horn-rimmed glasses, and some kind of weird dreadlocks. “Get out before I call the cops. You need to leave.” Taking a deep breath, I let Cory go.

“I think you’re right. I don’t know about calling the cops, what with all the underage drinking and pot smoking going on. Austin, you ‘bout ready, or you wanna walk?”

“Yeah…” Austin said, staring at Cory, who was slumped against the wall. Two of his freshman fan club immediately came to his aid. One of them called me an *******, and I smiled at her. I walked over to Vanessa. She looked up at me as I extended a hand down to her. There were thick streaks of mascara running down her face, and her nose was red. She took my hand and I pulled her to her feet.

“You alright?” I asked. She sniffled and nodded her head in the affirmative. “Okay,” I said. “C’mon, I’ll give you a ride home.”

“Get out of my house,” the hippie girl said, more forcefully this time. Ignoring her, I led Vanessa out the door with Austin and Rebecca in tow. So there I was, driving home early Sunday morning. Rebecca and Austin sat in the back seat in awkward silence. Vanessa sat in my passenger’s seat, sobbing once more, the victim of a volatile cocktail of alcohol and estrogen. Why do I always have to be the dad? I sighed heavily and looked at my friends in the rear-view mirror.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I had a great time.”

Nightcrawler
March 4, 2007, 10:55 AM
Don't worry guys. I know it starts off kind of slow. I put more character development into it, so it doesn't translate quite as well to episodic format. It picks up soon. :cool:

FWIW, the aforementioned chapter is an amalgamation of several things that took place back when I was in school. I miss college. :D

Correia
March 4, 2007, 07:09 PM
Nightcrawler's back. :)

This will be Part I. The Welcome Back thread was Part II. And then we will be doing Part III.

Yes, we have many evil things planned.

Nightcrawler
March 4, 2007, 09:11 PM
5: The Operative


“Hey Mike,” Matthew said.

“Hopper.”

“What?”

“Call me Hopper. My name’s Hopper now…Corwin.” He grinned at me.

“Okay, fine, Hopper. Have they started yet?”

“You can hear the radio as well as I can, dude. I don’t think so.” We were crouched behind the ruins of a stone wall, about thirty meters from the back door of the warehouse. I sniffed the air; the scent of dust and garbage filled my nostrils.

“Mexico stinks.”

“Yeah,” Matthew/Corwin agreed. “I can’t believe we’re really doing this.”

“Yeah…it’s weird, isn’t it? I keep thinking that this isn’t real. It doesn’t feel real.” I looked down at the Kalashnikov rifle in my hands. I pulled the charging handle back slightly, confirming yet again that there was still a round in the chamber. I was nervous. I leaned to my left and peeked out from behind the wall. The warehouse was still quiet.

“What the hell are they waiting for?” I asked aloud.

“Who knows?” Corwin said. He shifted again. I could tell he was as restless as I was. We were both wearing black body armor vests with steel plates front and back, as well as load-bearing vests over that. Mine was green, Corwin’s was black, and had a built-in holster on the left side that held his Beretta 92FS pistol. I took off my glasses and wiped my brow again. It was ridiculously hot for September, at least by my standards. It was probably normal for Mexico, though. Mainly we were just nervous.

“EXECUTE EXECUTE EXECUTE!” Decker’s command sounded harsh over the radio, and the quiet of the night was shattered as gunfire erupted from the warehouse. I leaned back over, trying to keep most of my body behind the cover of the wall, and leveled my rifle at the back door of the building.

I couldn’t see much of anything, and aside from muffled gunshots from inside the building, I couldn’t hear anything either. But I knew what was happening. Decker and Hawk entered from one side of the building while Aryeh, Ramirez, and Doc entered from the other. They both tossed flash-bangs in after they breached the doors, and were clearing out the building. Corwin and I were providing rear guard, since this was our first time out, while Triana stayed in the van monitoring police channels.

Triana, I thought to myself as I aimed my rifle, trying to use the sights in the darkness. The beautiful young computer hacker was interesting, to say the least. Her real name was Melinda, but like most of us, she’d given up her name. She was kind of Goth, I guess, and kept her hair dyed purple with black ribbons in it. I didn’t know where Decker had found her, but she was there the first time Matthew and I were introduced to SWITCHBLADE. Apparently she was some kind of genius, but she didn’t talk to us much. I don’t know if it was because she was shy, or if maybe it was because being the only girl on the team was weird, but she kept to herself. Corwin had a huge crush on her, though. I didn’t know. There was something different about her, but I couldn’t…

My thoughts were interrupted when the back door of the warehouse burst open, and three armed men came running out. I didn’t even realize it, but I’d moved my rifle’s selector switch two clicks down to the semiauto position.

“CONTACT!” I yelled as I squeezed the trigger. The rifle barked loudly, and my hearing was shot. I was aiming at the first man out the door, who was running right at me. I fired a second shot, and then a third, and he fell to the dirt. The man behind him froze, and began to raise his weapon, but I kept firing. Four, five, six, then seven shots, and he went down as well. I had no idea how many of those actually hit him. The third man darted back behind the warehouse door frame and fired at us with his Uzi. I ducked back behind the wall and clenched my teeth as bullets impacted it and the dirt near my feet.

Suddenly, Corwin stood up, shifted his MP5 submachine gun to his left shoulder, and leaned out from behind the wall. He fired off a long burst, probably ten rounds, then two shorter bursts. I was pelted with hot brass as he did so, and swore aloud when one of them went down my collar. He ducked back down and tapped me on the shoulder.

“I got him! He’s down!” A moment later, as I was trying to dig a burning cartridge casing out from under the collar of my body armor, our radios crackled to life.

“CLEAR! ALL CLEAR!” It was Decker again. “Hopper, Corwin, safe your weapons and get in here, we’ve got work to do and we don’t have much time.” I squeezed the microphone clipped to the right shoulder of my vest and replied.

“Roger!” I looked over at Corwin. “C’mon, Matthew, let’s go!”

“Corwin.”

“What?”

“My name is Corwin now, remember…Hopper?” He was grinning, and I grinned back at him. I put my rifle on SAFE but kept it held at the low-ready as we moved towards the building. My ears were still ringing, and I could hear my own breathing as well as I could hear anything else.

I paused as I approached the first man that had come out of the door. He was Mexican, wearing a dirty t-shirt and blue jeans, and on the ground next to him was the folding-stock Kalashnikov he’d been carrying. He was laying face down in a pool of blood, and two exit wounds were apparent on his back. One was low and on his left side, the other was higher and right in the middle. I looked like it had gone through his spine.

The other man was on his side, with only one hole in him. The bullet had entered right where his collarbone was and had exited out his right shoulder. His eyes were wide and his jaw was slack. Looking ahead, I could see the third man just inside the door, laying in a pool of his own blood. I looked up at Corwin, who looked over at me. I realized then that I had just killed two men. I didn’t see what the big deal was.

As we entered the warehouse, I noticed that my hands were shaking. I didn’t make it five steps in the door before I threw up.

***

I pulled into the parking lot under a dark, gunmetal sky. Parking my car at the far end of the lot, I got out and observed my surroundings. Nothing unusual, though the place seemed a bit crowded for a Tuesday. Nothing to do but wait for my contact to arrive, I thought to myself. I leaned against my car and pulled out my cell phone, pretending to play with it while I watched the parking lot.

I didn’t have to wait long. A black sedan pulled into the space next to mine. Considering there were plenty of empty spaces closer to the door, I assumed that this was my guy. Still, I didn’t look at him, but continued to study my phone. Right on time, at any rate.

“Hot enough for you?” I asked, my breath smoking in the chill air.

“Yes, but it is a dry heat,” answered a clear soprano in accented English. I quickly looked up from my phone, and laid eyes on the EXODUS operative for the first time. She smiled at me.

“My name is Ling, Mr. Hopper,” she said, extending her hand. I shook it gently as she considered me with dark eyes. She was beautiful; tall, probably five foot nine, and slender. She had night-black hair and looked Chinese, or maybe a Chinese-American mix. She was obviously in very good physical condition, and her smile was warm. Her eyes were not.

Hmph, I grumbled, getting ahold of myself. This wasn’t the first time that a potential client had sent a beautiful woman as a negotiator; it was an old trick, meant to soften me up. Hell, I thought. Depending on how attractive they want to make the deal, she may offer to sleep with me. It wasn’t unheard of. I chuckled to myself. Honestly, I had expected better of EXODUS. All the same, I had business to conduct.

“Let’s go inside,” I said. “It’s starting to rain.” As if to drive the point home, thunder rumbled in the distance. Ling smiled at me again and headed for the door, leaving me behind. Her clothes were well tailored, with tight-fitting charcoal colored pants and a black leather jacket. Attractive, but nothing that would draw too much attention to her. I figured that she was either completely unaware of the way she moved, how her hips swayed when she walked, or (more likely) that she was totally working it for my benefit. I smiled to myself and followed along.

“Hi! Welcome to Applebees! Just two tonight? Would you like smoking or non?”

“Uh…”

“Non smoking, please,” Ling replied, cutting me off. The hostess nodded and led us to our table, a booth in the back corner of the restaurant. Ling took off her jacket, revealing a tight white turtleneck and a stainless steel Russian Orthodox cross hanging from a chain around her neck.

You’re probably wondering why I wanted to meet the EXODUS operative at an Applebees, of all places. It’s true that meeting in public guarantees that people will see you; however, I didn’t think it’d be a problem. I ate at this restaurant all the time; the only difference here was that I was with a girl (which, admittedly, was rare enough). On the other hand, a crowded place like an Applebees was noisy enough that it was maddeningly difficult to bug, and public enough that most professionals would shy away from trying anything treacherous. I can’t tell you how foolish it is to meet with someone down at the docks or in a warehouse, like you see in all the movies, especially if you’re supposed to be giving them something. The only thing standing between you and them shooting you is their sense of decency, and that’s nothing you should bet your life on.

Besides that, I was hungry, and ordered a bacon cheeseburger when our excessively perky waitress appeared. Ling asked for only a glass of water.

“So what can I do for you, Ms. Ling?” I asked, sipping my soda. She smiled at me again, but her eyes considered me carefully.

“There is a shipment of human cargo coming through here on Saturday. A tractor-trailer full of slaves, crossing over from Canada at Sault Ste. Marie. It will be crossing through Michigan into Wisconsin. We do not usually operate in the United States, much less an unlikely place such as this. It was our good fortune that you happened to be living in exile here. Will you help us?”

“There’s a lot of road between here and the Soo,” I said. “How do you know which way it’s going?”

“We…extracted that information from one of their receiving clerks,” she replied, contempt dripping in her voice. “He was very helpful. There is a distribution center of sorts in Des Moines, and from there they’re sent to their final destinations.”

“I can’t believe that this goes on here and you never hear about it,” I said skeptically.

“They don’t operate in large numbers in America. Slave labor is cheap here. Drug addicts and illegal immigrants provide the vast majority of the manpower, whether they’re prostitutes on the street or workers in a sweat shop. These slaves are different, though.”

“What do you mean?”

“They’re all girls, Mr. Hopper, the oldest being fifteen. They’re extremely valuable in the American market as sex slaves. They were never officially in the country, so they can’t very well be reported missing, can they? They’re smuggled into the underground system, and from there to rich pedophiles, black-market porn rings, and high-end child prostitution rings.”

“Jesus,” I said, looking down at my burger. You hear about this stuff happening in the third world, but you’d never think it’d happen here in the States. It never ceases to amaze me how sick people can be.

“Will you help us?”

“What is it that you want me to do?”

“I was not able to assemble my usual team,” Ling replied casually. “We’re down three. I can’t very well stage an assault with just three of us.”

“Wait a minute,” I said. “Your team? You’re one of their shooters?”

“Yes, Mr. Hopper. I am a small unit leader. This surprises you?”

“A bit.”

“Because I am a woman?” she asked, an edge in her voice.

“No, because usually the negotiator isn’t a trigger-puller. It’s poor operational security.”

“Perhaps, but EXODUS is an old organization, and we do cling to our traditions. It gets tiresome sometimes, but it helps keep us grounded.”

“Just how old is EXODUS? And why bring in an outsider?”

“The organization was founded in eighteen thirty-six. We had a larger presence in the United States in the old days, working with American abolitionists. As for your second question…that’s complicated. It’s primarily because we don’t have a lot of people to spare right now. There are other things going on. It’s not the best operational security, as you say, but we’ve studied you quite intensely.”

“I’m disturbed by how easily you located me.”

“Don’t be. Our intelligence is very good. Better than many countries’, actually.”

“Is it true that you kill every slaver you catch?”

“It’s no less than they deserve.” Ling’s eyes could’ve bored holes in me.

“You seem…committed…” I replied carefully. I was wondering if she actually bought into all of this, or if it was just her sales pitch. Ling surprised me by rolling up her left sleeve. Tattooed on her forearm was an eight-digit number.

“I was once a slave, Mr. Hopper. Committed doesn’t begin to describe my feelings in this matter. Will you help us or not?” I looked down into my soda, thinking hard.

“Ten thousand.”

“Done,” she replied, unhesitatingly. “Lower than I expected, actually. How many men will you be providing?”

“You’re looking at ‘em,” I said casually.

“I don’t understand,” she said, her voice softening again.

“I tried to explain this to your contact on the phone. SWITCHBLADE effectively ceased to exist almost two years ago. What you see is what you get.”

“I…see. So that is why your fee is so low.”

“Yeah. Ten thousand is more than enough for a day’s work, I think.”

“I agree, but…” she hesitated. “I do not know if it’ll be enough. As I said my team is short. Two couldn’t make it, and one was…one was killed last month. Can you replace three men?”

“I can’t guarantee that, but how much resistance are you expecting?”

“Not much. I just prefer to be cautious.”

“Then I’m your guy. Listen to me. I know my way around here, and if worse comes to worse I’ve got safe places to hide and contacts get us out of trouble. I’m your best bet.”

“You have a deal, Mr. Hopper,” she said, smiling again. For the first time, her dark eyes softened, though not by much.

“Please. My name is Michael. Besides, I don’t go by ‘Hopper’ anymore. Now, let’s figure this out…” We spent the next half hour making arrangements before leaving the restaurant. As she got into her car, though, Ling had one last thing to tell me.

“The slavery ring we’re dealing with is large and powerful. They service many wealthy and influential customers, and these people have a vested interest in keeping their secrets. They’re willing to pay vast sums of money and do anything to ensure that. We have reason to believe that agents of this slavery ring may be onto us,” she said bluntly. “Please be careful, Michael. They can be ruthless. I’ll be in touch.” With that, she rolled up her car window and drove off, leaving me standing in the rain. I sighed.

“Super.”

dracphelan
March 4, 2007, 10:07 PM
Nightcrawler, I'm really enjoying this so far. As an aside, I know how your character feels. I'm am usually the only sober one at the party.

Nightcrawler
March 4, 2007, 10:12 PM
You know, I'm a bit surprised. I'm not getting nearly the amount of feedback my last two stories did. I hope it's not because this is perceived to be of lower quality than the others, since I put a lot more work into it. I don't think so; compared to my others, it's highly polished. Look ma, no spelling errors!

*shrug* Maybe my fifteen minutes of internet fame are over. What ever shall I do now?

(How bout I stop whining and get back to writing? Finishing this story is as much for me as it is for you guys. :D )

Anyway, Correia's right. The third story, concluding this series, is going to be the definition of awesome. We've spent hours at FBMG brainstorming. Hint: A lot of the conspiracy stuff hinted at in the second story is going to come to fruition.

Eat your heart out, Mr. Clancy. I listen to Coast to Coast AM (http://www.coasttocoastam.com). I know a thing or two about conspiracies. :cool: :D

Remington788
March 4, 2007, 10:52 PM
I just finished reading what you have posted so far and I think it's great. Don't worry to much, considering the post count your last story had, I foresee many positive comments in your future.

Arkie
March 4, 2007, 11:44 PM
And where was I yesterday??? I just found and read this thread.

I really enjoy everything you have done, and I'm always looking for another chapter.

Way to go Nightcrawler!!!!! :D


Keep up the good work.

hankdatank1362
March 4, 2007, 11:51 PM
Yeah that reminded me of a night or two in college.

Dude, this story is really good.

Like, really really good!

Oleg Volk
March 5, 2007, 12:31 AM
Great writing. Good job of making us take an interest in the character, the dual timelines. Shades of Irwing Shaw on a good day.

fiVe
March 5, 2007, 12:34 AM
You know, I'm a bit surprised. I'm not getting nearly the amount of feedback my last two stories did.

NC, it's great! It's the great writing we've come to expect from a great writer.

Always waiting for the next installment,
fiVe

ndh87
March 5, 2007, 01:30 AM
Another Nightcrawler story? That just made my day. i ran across the "Welcome Back Mr. Nightcrawler story a few months ago, read the entire thing in one sitting.

What was that about compiling all these stories into a pdf file? I'd like to get a copy of that

Nightcrawler
March 5, 2007, 06:41 AM
6: Contact

Late that night, I was sitting at my desk in front of my computer when there was a knock on my door. I slid my hand under my sweater and grasped my .45 as I looked through the peephole. Relaxing, I opened the door.

“What’s up?” I asked Austin as he stepped in.

“Could you give me a ride to Wal-Mart?” he asked. Rebecca needs some stuff.”

“Crackin’ the whip, is she?” I asked, grinning. “Yeah, I’ll take you. I need a break from this anyway.” I walked over and closed my laptop.

“Whatcha workin’ on?” he asked. “Homework?”

“I was looking at porn,” I replied as non-chalantly as I could manage. An awkward silence ensued as Austin tried to decide if I was joking or not. A moment later I cracked up. “Yes, I was doing homework.” I laughed. That was a lie; I’d actually been researching EXODUS and the slavery ring Ling warned me about, but trying to explain all of that to Austin would’ve complicated things.

So there we were, wandering around the Wal-Mart Supercenter just after midnight. It’s a time-honored small-town pastime, and for once we actually had shopping to do.

“Mike,” Austin began. “What happened the other day?”

“What do you mean?” I asked, browsing DVDs.

“At the party. You went a little crazy.”

“You think?” I asked, reading the back of a DVD case.

“Yeah, I mean…”

“Austin,” I interrupted, “I could’ve broken his arm. I didn’t.”

“Uh…see, that’s what I’m talking about right there. I’ve never seen you get so…so…”

“He shouldn’t have shoved that girl,” I said, looking Austin in the eye, my voice flat.

“Yes, I know, and it was all very noble, but…”

“Not for the reason you think. It’s…" I took a deep breath. "My mother was murdered, bro.”

“What?”

“Yeah. I kinda have issues with violence against women. There are worse vices.”

“I…I’m sorry,” he said after a moment.

“Don’t be. Old news. That was another lifetime. Upward and onward and all that crap.”

“But where did you learn…I mean, I took Tae Kwon Do for two years and they never taught us anything like that. You’ve got some moves. That was pretty cool.”

“Heh…like I said, another lifetime.”

“What are you, Mario? How many extra lives do you have?” I laughed. He really didn’t know just what a fitting question that was.

“If we’re done with the after school special crap, dude, what do you think of this?” I held up a DVD.

“Shogun Assassin? Sweet! Buy it!” So I did.

There was light, drizzling rain as we stepped back out into the cold night air. Making our way through the parking lot, we noticed that the place was surprisingly busy, but Austin said they were having one of those late-night sales. The parking lot was about half-full as we made our way across it, laughing and joking.

“Wait a second,” I said, stopping suddenly.

“What is it?” Austin asked.

“Where the hell did I park?” I looked around. Austin laughed.

“Over there, I think. We went in the other set of doors, remember?”

“Oh yeah. Heh.” We turned to the right and began weaving through the cars, heading towards my car. We were about to cross another row when I noticed a van speeding around the corner. Tires squealed on the pavement as it screeched to a halt in front of us. Alarm bells went off in my head.

I shoved Austin down as the van’s side door slid open. There were five armed men inside; one of them tossed a smoke grenade out. I ducked down behind the truck with Austin as the first one stepped out of the door, raising an Uzi as he did so.

The burst of 9mm bullets punched through the car’s fender and rear windshield, and all hell broke lose. People began to duck and scatter, screams could be heard, and cars crashed into one another as people tried to flee. The other gunmen began firing in seemingly random directions, adding to the confusion. More smoke grenades were thrown, and the parking lot was immersed in a thick white haze.

“COME ON!” I yelled to Austin, and began to crawl away. We were between two rows of parked cars. I pushed Austin in front of me and reached for my pistol. I was carrying my Colt Government Model in a strong-side inside-the-waistband holster concealed beneath my sweater, and was suddenly glad I'd brought it instead of my snubby. I looked behind me in time to see the shooter with the Uzi step around the truck we’d been using as cover. My weapon was on him. I let off two quick shots; the bullets hit him in the chest and stomach, and he collapsed to the pavement with a groan.

We didn’t have time to stop. I pushed Austin again and we kept crawling. We were moving back towards the store. I was trying to get some distance between us and the van. My car was several rows over; that’s a long way when people are trying to kill you. If it came to it, I was prepared to run back into the store for cover, but I really just wanted to get out of there.

Several parked cars now separated us from the gunmen’s van, and we were crouched behind a large pickup truck. I couldn’t see very far because of all the smoke, but that meant that they couldn’t see me either. Another burst of gunfire shattered the truck’s back window, scattering the ‘Calvin peeing on the Ford logo’ sticker there.

“You okay?” I yelled at Austin. He looked like he was going into shock. I couldn’t blame him; I wasn’t exactly having a ball myself. “C’mon, we gotta go!” I yelled, and prepared to dash across the lane. We were about to make our break for it when another gunman appeared right in front of me. He rounded the back corner of the pickup truck, sawed-off shotgun in hand, at a full run. Austin and I were still crouched behind the truck’s driver-side door. The gunman came to a sudden stop when he saw us, nearly losing his balance. As he raised his weapon, he racked the slide, chambering a round.

Before he could bring his weapon to bear, the glowing tritium sights of my .45 were aligned on his chest. I fired three times; he staggered as the rounds stitched up his chest. He fell to the side, leaving a smear of blood on the truck’s left-rear fender as he crumpled to the ground.

My .45 was in my left hand; I was holding Austin’s head down with my right. Seeing an opportunity, I safetied and re-holstered my pistol. I grabbed the dead gunman’s shotgun, put its buttstock in my right shoulder, and peeked around the truck’s back tire.

“We’re gonna make a break for it!”.

“Mike, wait…!” Austin started. I didn’t let him finish. I grabbed his jacket collar and pulled him with me as I dashed across the lane. As we bolted between rows of cars, I fired a quick shot at another gunman who was standing by the back door of the van. My shot hit him in the chest, and he bounced off of the back door of the van as he fell to the ground. I fired two more shots at the van; the other two gunmen were using it for cover and I wanted to keep their heads down.

A few agonizingly long seconds later, Austin and I were again crawling between rows of parked cars. The shotgun, a Remington 870 with the barrel cut down, had only one round left in it, and there were still two more shooters out there. The gunfire had ceased, but the pandemonium in the parking lot hadn’t. I could hear people screaming, men shouting, horns honking, tires screeching, and cars smashing into one another as we weaved our was through the next row. There was no wind, and the smoke wasn’t clearing very quickly.

There was my car! I took one last look around; I couldn’t see very far, and didn’t know if the gunmen were close or not, but we had to make a break for it. I used my keyless entry control to unlock the doors.

“Okay, when I say go, you need to run for the car, get in, and get your head down, okay? Austin?” He looked at me wide-eyed, looked down at the shotgun in my hands, and nodded abruptly.

“GO!” We ran for the car. Before we could get the doors open, gunfire erupted once more. I heard the unmistakable chatter of an AK-47 on full auto; rounds ripped up the back of my car. They punched through the back window and went through the window on the open passenger’s side door. I heard Austin cry out in pain. He dropped his bag as he clutched his left arm and stumbled to the ground.

God DAMN it. I practically fell into my car and slammed the door shut, tossing the shotgun onto the floor.

“GET IN!” I screamed at Austin. He reached into the car from the ground as another burst of gunfire stitched up the back of my car. I crouched down behind my seat, for all the good it would’ve done me. I then grabbed Austin’s arm and yanked him into the car. His left arm was bleeding badly.

“KEEP YOUR HEAD DOWN!” With Austin mostly in the car, I started it up and threw it into reverse. In my mirror, I saw another gunman run behind the car and level a shotgun at it. He began firing, completely shattering my rear windshield, but I stomped on the gas. The gunman dodged to his right, but he wasn’t fast enough.

The rear bumper of my Oldsmobile caught him in the hip as my car lurched out of the parking space. His shotgun clattered across the ventilated trunk lid as he disappeared beneath the back end of my car. I cut the wheel to the right, and the car bucked harshly as the gunman was crushed under my wheels. Coming to a quick stop on top of the dead shooter, I threw it into drive and stomped on the gas again. The car jolted violently again as the wheels cleared the dead man, and we hauled ass out of the parking lot.

We turned onto the road just as ten police cars from four local jurisdictions came tearing into the parking lot, lights flashing and sirens screaming.

**** **** **** ****! This was bad. I never imagined they’d try anything so brazen, so ****ing unprofessional. Christ, I thought. There must’ve been fifty ****ing video cameras on that parking lot. God DAMN it. My mind was racing. If they identify me, I’m ****ed. I’m probably going to have to bug out again. ****. The smoke probably blocked the cameras, but…

“M…Mike! Mike!” Austin said, interrupting my thoughts. I looked over at him.

“Keep pressure on that. How bad is it?”

“I DON’T ****ING KNOW HOW BAD IT IS! Are you taking me to the hospital? I need to go to the hospital!”

“Let me see it,” I said, speeding through Marquette at well above the posted limit. Austin moved his blood-covered hand, and I glanced over at the wound.

“It’s just a scratch. You’ll be fine.”

“Mike I need to go to the hospital!”

“No you don’t. It’s just a graze. It got more of your jacket sleeve than it did your arm.”

“WHAT THE **** IS GOING ON? WHO WERE THOSE GUYS? You…you killed that guy! You…”

“I killed four guys. Now stop shouting.”

“Mike…”

“CALM DOWN!” I shouted. “We’re going home, and I’m going to patch you up. Relax, you’ll be fine. I’ve seen a lot of gunshot wounds before.” A few minutes later, I pulled into one of the University’s parking lots. It wasn’t the close one behind our dorm, but one that was down the hill, farther away, and poorly lit. We got out, and I opened the trunk. I racked the shotgun once, ejecting the unfired shell from the chamber, then tossed the weapon into my trunk. I retrieved a canvas car cover and began to unfold it.

“Mike,” Austin said as I pulled the cover over my car. “I’m going to go to the hospital. I have health insurance, I’m covered. I’ll walk. I don’t know what’s going on, but I’m going to see a doctor, and then I’m calling the police.” I turned to face him as it began to rain once more, and my eyes narrowed.

“Look,” he said, still clutching his arm, but much calmer than before, “I…” He froze.

“You’re not going to the hospital, and you’re not going to the police. I said…” It was then that I noticed that I’d drawn my .45. My heart fell into my stomach. Taking a deep breath, I ejected the pistol’s magazine and placed it in my pocket. I retrieved a full one, slammed it home, then reholstered my weapon.

“Let’s go inside, okay? Let me get you patched up.” Austin nodded again, eyes still wide.

Good ****ing job, Mike, I thought to myself. Your only Goddamn friend is terrified of you now. A few minutes later, Austin was sitting on the chair in my dorm room as I pulled out my first aid kit.

“This is going to hurt,” I said. He winced as I vigorously scrubbed out his wound with an alcohol pad. The bullet had grazed his left bicep, but it wasn’t deep. Deep enough to hurt like hell and bleed a lot, I mean, but not enough to do any real damage. He’d been lucky.

“You’ll have an awesome scar,” I said absentmindedly as I applied a bandage. “Just take it easy on this arm for awhile, and you’ll wanna put on a fresh bandage every day.”

“Mike, will you please tell me what’s going on? Why do you have a gun? Why did those men try to kill you? What…” He quickly fell silent when someone pounded on my door. I looked over at him, making the shooshing gesture. I moved to the door, drawing my pistol, swiping the safety off, and holding it muzzle-up. I leaned over and peeked through the peephole.

I exhaled heavily. I safetied the pistol and held it behind my back as I opened the door.

“Mike!” Rebecca said, eyes wide. “AUSTIN!” She ran into the room and threw her arms around him. “I heard there was a shooting in the Wal-Mart parking lot! Oh my God! What happened to you? Are you okay? Why didn’t you go to the hospital? Did you see the shooting? Are…”

Rebecca froze when she looked at me. I brought the forty-five from behind my back and holstered it. Her eyes grew wide.

“Oh my God,” she repeated. “It’s you.” I closed my eyes, took a deep breath, and locked the door.

“Okay kids,” I said at last. “It’s story time.”

Mandirigma
March 5, 2007, 06:58 AM
Great so far!



just one minor, little thing missing *sigh* I miss the voices(a la BB), "William Conrad" (anyone up for it???)

and sm, the soundtrack???



Definately not necessary but I still miss it.

bsf
March 5, 2007, 07:21 AM
Do not know if I want to read this now, or wait for the entire thing. I remember reading some of Nightcrawler’s stuff previously; very entertaining. PM inbound to Nightcrawler w/ my email address. I get the feeling this is going to be a classic, ranking right up there with Riders of the Purple Sage or The Lonesome Gods in terms of a literary escape from the travails of modern life.

iamkris
March 5, 2007, 08:37 AM
My apologies for not giving feedback earlier. I loved your first story. This looks good...defintely a different style but in many ways, a more sophisticated, simple, clean style.

I like it.

NukemJim
March 5, 2007, 08:41 AM
hope it's not because this is perceived to be of lower quality than the others, since I put a lot more work into it.

I must respectfully disagree. Quality is excellent. As stated in PMs consider going commercial.

NukemJim

Billy Sparks
March 5, 2007, 08:56 AM
Hey I offered you a steak if you ever make it to NC, what do you want me to do send you a Applebee's gift card?? :neener:

Seriously, don't know about the rest but I am REALLY enjoying your story.

ozwyn
March 5, 2007, 10:01 AM
Caught up a little late to this story. heck of a good way to start a monday. keep up the good work :D

usp_fan
March 5, 2007, 11:50 AM
NC,

Great Stuff again! If I get over to Moab this year I'll have to come north and meet you at FBMG. Keep it up. I'll send you a PM with my email. I'd love to get the completed file.

--usp_fan

steveracer
March 5, 2007, 12:25 PM
I'm extremely impressed. I consider myself a bit of a literary snob, and REALLY like your work. You have done yourself a great credit by writing this. Please continue, we eagerly await your next edition.
Steve

the pistolero
March 5, 2007, 12:52 PM
I'm not getting nearly the amount of feedback my last two stories did.

Because we're all too busy reading, and waiting with bated breath for more. Awesome stuff, Nightcrawler, keep up the good work!

CK
March 5, 2007, 01:45 PM
Awesome!!!!:what: Loving it!! And to read it even for free....Thanks Nightcrawler.

rxraptor02
March 5, 2007, 02:42 PM
Great story!

This is one of the main reason why I joined the THR. keep up the good work.

fspitzdorf
March 5, 2007, 02:55 PM
more.... must. have.. more... http://www.thehighroad.org/images/smilies/smile.gif

hacksaw
March 5, 2007, 03:13 PM
Man i soooo love this stuff!!!!!!!! but you are gonna get me fired!!!!!!! I got NOTHING done last summer while reading "Welcome...." Now I gotta read this one from start to finish!

This is almost as much an addiction as .45 collecting...and M1A collecting...and M1 collecting...and......

bad LT
March 5, 2007, 03:57 PM
Very, very good...

as usual.:D

Nightcrawler
March 5, 2007, 04:55 PM
7: Collateral Damage

The first rays of the morning sun were shining from behind our high school as we took one last look at it from the parking lot. Matthew stood on my left and Katrina stood to my right.

“I can’t believe it,” Katrina said.

“You guys want to get some breakfast?” Matthew asked.

“I’ve got to get to bed,” she said with a yawn. “Come here.” She hugged each of us, then opened her car door.

“Catch ya later,” I said.

“Yeah,” she replied, smiling, and drove off. Matthew looked over at me.

“You hungry?” he asked. “Let’s go get some breakfast.”

“I don’t know, dude. I’m pretty tired, and…”

“Please? Come on.” I looked at my friend, and my heart sank. I knew why he didn’t want to go home. Matthew’s real parents had been killed in an accident years earlier; his foster parents were horrible. His foster mother was a worthless drunken floozie, and his foster father was a violent drug addict. The guy was on steroids and routinely beat the **** out of my best friend.

“Okay,” I said. “Let’s go to my house and say hi to my mom, then we’ll go to Perkins, okay?”

“Cool!” Matthew said, smiling. We got into my car and made our way across town to wher I lived. I pulled into the driveway of my house, right behind my mom’s truck, and got out. I realized then that my neighbor was sitting on our front step.

“Mr. Decker?” I asked as I approached. “What’s going on? Are you okay?” He was smoking a cigarette. It was then that I realized there appeared to be blood spattered on him.

“Michael,” he said, not looking up at me. “I’ve got something to tell you. You don’t want to go in there.” His hushed, gravelly voice had a strange accent, sounding almost European.

“What? Why? Where’s my mom?” Mr. Decker stood up, and placed his hands on my shoulders.

“Michael, your mother is dead,” he said flatly, looking me in the eye.

“What?”

“Your mother is dead, Michael. She was murdered.”

“That’s…that’s not funny…you…”

“I’m not joking, boy. Don’t go…” I pushed past him and ran into the house.

“MOM!” I said as I stepped through our small porch. The inner door led to our kitchen, and it was open. What I saw next will haunt me for the rest of my life.

Our kitchen had been ransacked. The table and chairs were dumped over, and the walls had been stitched with machine gun fire.. Two men in dark suits were by the stairs, laying in pools of blood. One of them had a pistol in his hand, and some kind of submachine gun was laying on the floor.

My mother was lying face down on the floor, in a pool of blood. She had several bullet holes in her back. Blood was splattered on the counter and cabinets behind her, and her chair had been knocked over. I looked down at my mother’s body, and I felt cold inside.

“Mom…” The word came out as a raspy whisper. I turned around, and headed back out the door. On my way out, I noticed that my dog was lying by the door; he’d also been shot.

I stepped back out into the crisp morning air, eyes wide, not saying anything, not feeling anything.

“Mike?” Matthew asked.

“My mom is dead,” I said very quietly. “She…” I stumbled down off of our step and landed in the grass. On my hands and knees, I threw up violently. I stood up, shaking, and tears began to stream down my face. I turned to Mr. Decker.

“What happened? WHY? WHY DID THEY KILL MY MOM! WHY…” I was sobbing. Decker grabbed me. His hazel eyes were cold, and hard.

“Listen to me, boy,” he said. “Those men came for me. They just got the wrong house. I’m sorry. Your mother was…collateral damage. I heard the noise from my porch. When I found them, it was too late, but I killed them.”

“I don’t understand,” I said, shaking badly. “Why did they want to kill you? Why did they kill my mom?”

“In another life, Michael, I made a lot of enemies. It seems my past has come back to haunt me. I thought I was safe here. I’m sorry. It looks like they just walked in and started shooting.”

“What am I going to do?” I asked. “I don’t have any family. I don’t…” I fell silent, and slumped down onto the grass. It was strange; at first I’d felt nothing, then it hurt so bad that I couldn’t stand it. Then…then it stopped. I looked up, and the tears stopped. I felt still inside, the pain a distant memory. It was like everything that was happening was just something I’d seen in a movie. For the first time in my life I felt the calm wash over me. Mr. Decker looked at me as I collected myself.

“Come with me, boy.”

“What?”.

“Come with me. I’ll take you in, give you a home. I…I owe you that much.”

“What are we going to do?”

“We’re going to find the ones that ordered this hit.”

“Are we going to kill them?” I asked, voice steadying.

“I can promise you that,” Decker replied, ice in his voice. “Let’s go. We need to go right now. From this moment on, you’re dead. We’ll get you a new name, a new life. You can’t take any of your things. You’ve got thirty seconds to start a new life, boy. Can you do it?” I nodded shakily.

“Wait,” Matthew said. “Take me with you. Please.”

“No,” Decker said. “I’m sorry young man, but…”

“TAKE ME WITH YOU!” Matthew almost screamed. “Take me with you or I’m going to the police.” Mr. Decker’s eyes narrowed, and his hand slid under his shirt. I froze, fearing he was going to pull out a gun.

“Please,” Matthew said, tears rolling down his face. “I can’t go back to that. I can’t do it anymore. Please.” Mr. Decker closed his eyes, took a deep breath, and nodded.

“Okay. Both of you, come with me, right now! We don’t have much time. He led us next door to his house, and told us to get into his Ford Explorer. He went into the house, and reappeared a few minutes later with two big duffel bags. He threw them in the back of his SUV, and climbed into the driver’s seat.

I took one last look at the little green house I’d grown up in. It looked so peaceful, bathed in the golden morning light. We rounded the corner and it was gone from sight. Mr. Decker produced a large satellite phone and placed call. I heard only half of the conversation.

“It’s me, Hawk. Yes. Yes. There’s a problem. They tried to do a hit on me. No. They hit the wrong house, killed a woman. Yes. They’re coming for us, Hawk. Get everyone together. We’ll meet at the usual place. If we don’t deal with this they’ll kill us all one by one. Yes. I’ll be there in a couple of days. Oh, one more thing. I’m not alone. I’ll explain when I get there.” He hung up.

“Your new life starts now, boy,” he said, not looking at me.

***

Austin and Rebecca sat together on my bed, wide-eyed, as I told my story. I leaned against the bathroom door, absentmindedly fiddling with a pen as I talked. The TV was on to frustrate anyone outside the room that might be trying to listen in.

I talked for more than half an hour. I told my only two friends nearly everything about myself in cold, detached detail. My own voice seemed distant to me as I recalled the empty, violent adrenaline rush my formative years had been.

I told them how Decker had taken us in and made us trainees of SWITCHBLADE. I told them as much about that organization as I could without compromising its few survivors. I then rolled up my left sleeve and showed them the tattoo there. It was a grinning skull, fiercely clutching a switchblade knife between its teeth.

Still I talked. I told my friends about that warehouse in Mexico where I’d killed my first man; that had been only a couple of months after my eighteenth birthday. I told them about the intense training Decker, Hawk, and Aryeh put us through, turning two boys into efficient, well-trained killers.

Rebecca squeezed Austin’s hand as I told them about the first time I got shot, and about when Aryeh, Doc, Ramirez, and Hudson were killed. Neither of them said anything as I talked, even after I explained about the destruction of Federov’s yacht, how I had killed Decker myself, and the end of SWITCHBLADE. Rebecca looked like she was going to cry by the time I finished, and Austin stared at the floor. Both of them looked up at me again as I told them about the tractor-trailer full of girls that EXODUS had contacted me about. Finally, I fell silent, and looked at the floor myself. It was awkwardly quiet in my dorm room then, save the chattering of the television.

“What are you going to do?” Rebecca asked finally.

“That depends on a lot of things, darlin’,” I replied, looking up at her.

“What do you mean?” Austin asked.

“Well,” I said, “you said you were going to go to the police. If you’re going to do that, I have to bug out again. Maybe they’ll catch me this time, probably not. I have other sets of ID, even other vehicles I have access to. I can walk out that door right now and you’ll never see me again. EXODUS will have to do the hit without me, and they might fail. If they fail, a bunch of young girls will spend the rest of their lives as sex slaves.”

“You…you won’t stop us from, you know, calling the cops?” Austin asked. I sighed.

“Guys, you’re my friends. Despite the fact that just about everything I’ve told you about myself is a lie, that much is true. You guys are my only friends, as a matter of fact. I wouldn’t hurt you. If that’s what you need to do, then I won’t stop you. I’ll be gone by the time they get here though, and I’ll be in another state in a few hours. But I won’t stop you.”

“You pulled your gun on me earlier,” Austin said steadily.

“WHAT?” Rebecca gasped.

“Yeah,” I said. “Reflex. Sorry about that.”

“You *******!” Rebecca snapped.

“Look, I didn’t point it at him. God damn, do I get a thanks for saving your life?”

“You…” Rebecca started, then fell silent. This is going well, I thought to myself sarcastically.

“Well…except for where I was really scared and almost died, it was kind of cool,” Austin said. Rebecca gave him an evil look.

“Austin, I’m sorry you got caught up in this. I’m sorry you got hurt, I really am. But I can’t just go. I have to do this, I have to help EXODUS. I need to do something good for once,” I said truthfully. They were silent. “How would you two like ten thousand dollars, then?” I asked.

“What?” they said simultaneously.

“That’s what I’m being paid for this. I don’t need the money. You two should take it, use it for school. Just don’t deposit it all at once; any transactions of ten thousand dollars or more are reported to the federal government. Put some in the bank, keep the rest in cash.”

“You’re bribing us?” Rebecca asked, crossing her arms.

“Consider it a thank-you for being there for me.”

“Well…I don’t know,” Rebecca said. “It just seems so…so…”

“Criminal?” I asked. “That it is.”

“I just feels wrong,” she said.

“I don’t tend to think of things in terms of right and wrong,” I said. “I think of things in terms of practical reality. The reality of this situation is if that truck isn’t intercepted, a bunch of young girls are condemned to a life of misery and suffering. There’re no-two-ways about it.”

“Can’t we just call the police and have them stop the truck?” Austin asked.

“No, we can’t,” I replied. “First off, I don’t have any idea where it’s going to be at, or when EXODUS plans to intercept it. I don’t get to know that until we start the op. Secondly, if I betray EXODUS, then I’ll have them trying to kill me too, most likely, and that’s more heat than I’d care to deal with. And even if I survive that, they cops’ll still probably want to know how I came by this information, and that’ll likely end up with me in prison. Forgive me if I don’t consider going to jail and being killed to be viable options.”

“I…see,” Rebecca said. I could see the moral quandary in her eyes. She was a sweet kid; all of this must’ve been a lot for her.

“Do you…do you ever think about the people you killed?” She asked then. What a rude question.

“I have nightmares every night. You…you have no idea.”

“Then why are you going back to it? You said you wanted to retire.” I wasn’t sure how to answer that one. I was silent for a long moment before responding.

“It’s…this is what I do,” I said slowly. “I understand that now. I’ve been trying so hard to be something I’m not. I feel like I’m suffocating. You…I can’t explain it any better than that.”

“Are they going to kill them? The slavers, I mean.” Rebecca asked.

“EXODUS always does,” I said bluntly. “Many of their operatives are former slaves themselves.” She just nodded.

“What should we do?” she asked Austin.

“I…,” he replied, looking into her eyes. “He saved my life. I can’t…you know.”

“I could point out that it’s because of my meddling that you two hooked up in the first place,” I said then, almost grinning. “But I won’t.”

“Yeah,” Austin said. “Hey Mike? I want to go with you.”

“WHAT?”

iamkris
March 5, 2007, 05:08 PM
You guys notice that everytime Nightcrawler says "I'm going to hold off posting anymore until later in the week" and then we comment/give encouragement...presto...more shows up.

Lesson -- KEEP UP THE ENCOURAGEMENT :D

Nightcrawler
March 5, 2007, 05:19 PM
Honestly? I'm just excited about getting to the good parts. NC does drama now.

On the other hand, I work tonight, then it's back on twelve hour shifts until Friday, so...just thought what the hell, it's a weekend. :D

Glock22
March 5, 2007, 06:19 PM
Nightcrawler this is a great story.

atomicferret
March 5, 2007, 06:22 PM
Meh, It is alright....















































:D

Correia
March 5, 2007, 07:01 PM
Atomicferret can only say that because he has been in the shop during some of NC and my brainstorming sessions for book three. Though we've made him swear a blood oath of secrecy... And we know people. Bad people.

:)

darkknight
March 5, 2007, 09:57 PM
I ve been waiting for this for the last couple of months. Great story i wish I had a pdf of it right now, the suspense is killing me. 24 and Nc are bad for the heart. I am having a bad day and this made it much much better. I am glad i found this toda and not friday, cause i would have missed an entire weekend due to the fact i would have to watch the thread closely looking for a new chapter.

Nightcrawler
March 5, 2007, 10:07 PM
Quite a few people, last time around, asked me about the true origin of the character, Valentine (formerly NC).

“Are we going to kill them?” I asked, voice steadying.

There you go. This isn't a happy story so far, is it? :uhoh:

Rey B
March 5, 2007, 11:07 PM
Had connection problems all weekend, just got back up today, making the rounds. Nightcrawler is posting again. Life is good.:D

gyp_c2
March 5, 2007, 11:35 PM
...'yer just gettin' spoilt with all this praise :neener:
...Back ta' werk, and no more whinin'...;)

I do like the time and details you're adding to the characters...more is better...
Better sense of humour is cool...although a bit chilly:evil:

More Ling...pls...http://emoticons4u.com/smoking/rauch06.gif

Inverness11
March 6, 2007, 12:14 AM
more please :)

BB93YJ
March 6, 2007, 12:28 AM
Doggone. This is guuuuuuuuuud...:evil:

Ritchie
March 6, 2007, 01:24 AM
WooHoo! This tends to put things in perspective. Just a thought:


“Calm down,” I said into his ear. He struggled some more, but all I had to do was pull on his arm and he quieted down. “I can break your shoulder or I can snap your wrist. Now you calm the **** down.” He was wide-eyed with exasperation and surprise. I held him there for a moment, and the room was dead silent, save for Vanessa’s sobbing.

“Holy ****,” someone whispered.

“This is ****in’ awesome,” someone else said.

“My dad’s a lawyer,” Cory managed weakly.

"Or both" I added. :scrutiny:

rwc
March 6, 2007, 01:37 AM
Good work.

MrPeter
March 6, 2007, 01:47 AM
WOOOOT! I'm very excited.

I think I'm going to try to wait until it's all written, and I get that magical and wonderful email with the attached .pDF!

I probably wont be able to resist... Who am I kidding

oneslowgun
March 6, 2007, 02:00 AM
Nightcrawler, the only reason this thread is not already 30 pages long, is that we feel that you already know that we really like your work, and we don't want 36 E-mails about new postings, with no new story postings.

I like your work. We ALL like your work.

Just because I posted this, there are now 75+-100+ E-mails going out. The bad part of that is everyone who has subscribed to this thread, now thinks YOU have posted something new. They, with much excitement will be checking the thread.... only to find... it was just me posting.

We really like the work, we are just trying not to clutter it up.

v8stang289
March 6, 2007, 09:27 AM
This story is excellent NightCrawler. I find myself continuosly checking the thread to see if anything new has been posted. Keep up the good work.

-v8stang289

wiski
March 6, 2007, 11:46 AM
I have read all your stories thus far, and really enjoyed them. You are very talented. Thanks for posting them here.

Nightcrawler
March 6, 2007, 11:56 AM
I *like* it when you guys "clutter it up". I don't mean the "Nightcrawler you're so awesome" comments, either. (I mean, c'mon. I know. LOL )

I like to see people's discussions on what's going on in the story.

For instance, we had what was supposed to be an emotionally wrenching scene earlier, and it didn't get much reaction. I'm going to have to work that one over (the death of Valentine's mother) for the final version...I never did like the way it came out. Something's missing...

Jalexander
March 6, 2007, 12:35 PM
Nightcrawler, you're so AWESOME!

And your story is mighty cool, too.

:D

James

Billy Sparks
March 6, 2007, 01:22 PM
Yeah one thing about Valentine's mothers death. Two ninja guys show up shot up the place, killing mother and dog. Decker next door is close enough to hear the commotion to come over but no one else does? And he is sitting quietly on the steps with blood on him not worrying that not just anyone will show up??

Gunfyter
March 6, 2007, 01:34 PM
Once again, Life is good. :D :D :D

Technosavant
March 6, 2007, 02:21 PM
I'm going to have to work that one over (the death of Valentine's mother) for the final version...I never did like the way it came out. Something's missing...

Death rode to the quiet suburban house, and dismounted from his horse. While Binky went to gnaw on the bushes, Death walked inside the abode. Standing there looking at her mutilated body was a stereotypical suburban housewife. She looked at Death, and asked "What will become of my son Mike?"

"HE'LL BE OK."

"Are you sure? He's all alone in this world now."

"TRUST ME. HE AND I WILL GO WAY FORWARD TOGETHER."

"Way forward? Oh, like way back. Please don't hurt him."

"IT ISN'T LIKE THAT. HE'S GOING TO PROVIDE ALL KINDS OF BUSINESS FOR ME."

As the housewife's spirit began to fade, Death could hear her say "Then help him."

"I WILL."

At the same time, Death noticed a smaller cloaked figure step out of the bullet-ridden cabinets. It looked up at Death, and simply said "SQUEAK."

Death picked up the Death of Rats, and told him "LET'S GO. THERE'S A PLAGUE BREAKING OUT. MUCH TO DO." They left the house and were riding off on Binky as they saw a couple teenagers coming down the street. Death just looked upon them and said "DARN SHAME. BUT EVEN DEATH NEEDS HIS HELPERS."


Well, maybe that isn't quite what was needed. Copyright stuff and all that... :neener:

hacksaw
March 6, 2007, 02:22 PM
Heck yeah!!!!!! Gimme more!!!!!!!!!! This stuff ROCKS!!!! I'm trapped at home with a sick 9 y.o. girl, the guns are all clean and I NEED MORE!!!

tyvm!

I vote for the distinguished Nightcrawler to be the official bard of THR!

Geegolly
March 6, 2007, 02:50 PM
------------------------------
You know, I'm a bit surprised. I'm not getting nearly the amount of feedback my last two stories did. I hope it's not because this is perceived to be of lower quality than the others, since I put a lot more work into it. I don't think so; compared to my others, it's highly polished. Look ma, no spelling errors!

*shrug* Maybe my fifteen minutes of internet fame are over. What ever shall I do now?

(How bout I stop whining and get back to writing? Finishing this story is as much for me as it is for you guys. )

Anyway, Correia's right. The third story, concluding this series, is going to be the definition of awesome. We've spent hours at FBMG brainstorming. Hint: A lot of the conspiracy stuff hinted at in the second story is going to come to fruition.

Eat your heart out, Mr. Clancy. I listen to Coast to Coast AM. I know a thing or two about conspiracies.
--------------------------------------

Sorry that I have not spoke up sooner, but this post saddens me. Please do not think that the lack of feedback is due to lack of interest. actually the oppisite is happening. Everyday it seems you are gaining more and more fans. I am speaking for myself when I say that I have wasted atleast more than week reading your stories. Not to many people can say that they have occupied another human beings life for more than a week. YOU my freind are great, and please keep up the great work.

nobody_special
March 6, 2007, 05:49 PM
I came across this thread by chance yesterday... immediately read the "Welcome back Mr NC" story, then read what you've got here so far.

I'm patiently waiting for more. :cool:

Good stories... a bit pulpy, but that just helps make them very fun. :)

Correia
March 6, 2007, 05:53 PM
a bit pulpy

Ya think? :D Lorenzo beat up Michael Moore in the last one...

Nightcrawler
March 6, 2007, 06:57 PM
Well...Decker kinda has to be waiting on the step for our young protagonist to get home. Otherwise, the kid just calls 911, goes through therapy, and probably joins the Army. Interesting drama, maybe, but not that interesting. So some things in the story might make the reader go, "well...I don't know". I try to keep those to a minimum, but I've got to work with the character/setting I originally came up with back in 2004. THAT story was just supposed to be campy fun, so I didn't worry about making it realistic.

So yes, it's quite pulpy. I love pulp. :D

Besides, Decker is in a little bit of shock. He'd retired to one of the unlikeliest places he could find, trying to get away from his old life, and they found him anyway. What's more, his neighbor of several years was killed as a result. The implication was that Decker was waiting for the kid to come home so he could tell him, instead of letting him just find that with no explanation. Decker isn't an evil man, or even a cruel one. He just got carried away. It cost him.

After all that, though...yeah, he's going to have a smoke. Honestly, in the neighborhood I grew up in, you could sit on the step for an hour and not see a car drive by, that early in the morning. We're talking REALLY small town here, about fifteen hundred people tops.

Decker is usually a cool customer, but he'd gotten comfortable, perhaps? Kind of jolted back to reality. But that's not what's bugging me about that scene. I don't know. Don't be surprised if in the .PDF version it's a complete re-write. I can't put my finger on it just yet...

EDIT: Oh yeah. "45" by Shinedown is, as I've said, Valentine's theme song. "Shura no Hana (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3jVYe2AzLM)" (Flower of Carnage), sung by Kaji Meiko, from the Kill Bill soundtrack, is Ling's. :cool:

Nightcrawler
March 6, 2007, 07:56 PM
8: The Way of the Gun

“Nervous?”

“Yeah,” Austin said, breath smoking in the cold morning air. “I can’t believe I’m really doing this. It doesn’t feel real.”

“It will soon enough,” I said. “That’s the way I felt my first time too. You’ve been living in a fishbowl your entire life, bro. You’re about to see the real world for the first time. This is your last chance to take the blue pill and go back. If you do this things won’t be the same.”

“Why are you letting me come?”

“Why do you want to go?”

“Those men tried to kill me. They shot me. I’m involved now.”

“Actually, I hadn’t thought of that, but you may well be right. Those guys were obviously tracking me, and if they’ve ID’d you, you could be in danger as well. Besides…there haven’t been a lot of times in my career when I’ve been able to say this, bro, but we’re doing the right thing. Don’t get me wrong. Our targets were bad people. Drug runners, smugglers, mercenaries, terrorists, **** like that. But it wasn’t about that. It was about the money. This, this is different. We’re saving a bunch of innocent young girls from the worst life imaginable.”

“It’s weird, though…and I can’t get this smirk off my face.”

“Austin,” I said, scanning the parking lot, “this is the most important thing you’ve ever done. You’ll be fine. It’s normal to be a little jittery. I’m really surprised that Becky let you go, though.”

“Me too, actually. She’s not happy about the whole thing, but she didn’t try to stop me, either. We talked about what you were just talking about, about how I could be in danger. I…I have to do something. If they come after me, she could get hurt, and…you know. Like I said, it’s weird.”

“There’s nothing wrong with wanting to finish a fight, Austin. It’s better than waiting around for ‘em to come after you again. ‘Sides, what woman wants to see young girls forced into sex slavery?”

As we talked, we stood in the lower lot not far from where my canvas-covered car was parked. Snow began to gently fall, and it was cold out. We didn’t have to wait long, though. A large white van pulled into the parking lot and stopped in front of us. The side door slid open, and we climbed in.

“Who is this?” Ling asked sharply. She was sitting in the passenger’s seat.

“This is an associate of mine. Didn’t you say you wanted more guys?”

“Yes, but you said…”

“Last minute change, darlin’. Let’s get going. I need to make one stop.”

“Stop?”

“Yeah, stop. I have to get my stuff. What, you think I keep my weapons in my dorm room? The RA might not understand why I have a box full of hand grenades.”

“You keep that one gun there,” Austin said helpfully.

“Where are we going?” Ling asked, pinching the bridge of her nose and closing her eyes.

“To my storage unit. Take a right once you get on the road.”

Once we were underway, I observed Ling’s compatriot. The van was being driven by a large man of obvious African descent. His head was clean-shaven, and he struck a silent but imposing figure. Ling had said she had one more person on her team; I had no idea where the other EXODUS operative was. They were both dressed in black outfits, with jackets and gloves. It was awkward, and I don’t handle awkward silences well.

“So where are your weapons?” I asked. Ling looked back at me again.

“In that locked container,” she said, pointing to what looked like a large steel tool box.

“Have you guys got credentials in case we get pulled over?” I asked, a little more seriously.

“Don’t worry, Michael,” Ling said. “We’ve done this plenty of times before.” I took that as a no. Most people don’t realize that unless all you want to do is buy beer underage, having alternate ID is a lot more involved than simply forging a driver’s license. Any cop in the country can run your license through the computer and will tell in an instant if it’s legit or not. The trick is to have your alternate identification officially issued by the proper authorities, and that requires more time and effort.

“So have I,” I retorted. “I just like to have a backup plan.”

“You worry too much. Now where is this storage unit of yours?” It didn’t take us long to get there. We pulled into the place, and I got out of the van.

It was a strange feeling as I unlocked that storage unit. I hadn’t been in there in months; I only went in once in awhile to make sure my weapons weren’t rusting. I stepped in and turned on the light. The unit wasn’t heated. There was a large, waterproof, steel security lock-box against the back wall, one of several that lined the walls of the unit. My breath was visible as I crouched down and undid the combination lock.

“Holy ****,” Austin said as I opened it. “I thought you were joking about the hand grenades. It’s like an illicit arms warehouse in here.” I chuckled as I retrieved my rifle.

My rifle was a custom job, built by Hawk a couple of years before. It was a FAL type rifle, but built with American-made parts from DSA, Inc. of Illinois. It was semi-automatic, and chambered for the .308 Winchester cartridge. It had a 16.25” barrel with a short flash hider, and the handguards, grip and buttstock were synthetic. The stock was mated with an old-style steel buttplate to shorten the length of pull, and the rear sight was replaced with a better, US-made one that was easier to adjust. In place of the dust cover was a DSA manufactured aluminum optics mount, on which I had mounted an Aimpoint COMP-C sight.

This electronic sight projected an illuminated red dot for me to aim with, and worked well in low light. As I picked the rifle up, I turned the sight on, to see if the batteries were still good, and pulled the charging handle back slightly to ensure that the chamber was empty. I then shouldered the rifle and looked through the optic. The buttstock was icy cold against my skin. Hefting this weapon brought back a flood of memories.

“Which one’s mine?” Austin asked, pointing into the box. In it was a second FAL carbine, nearly identical to the one in my hands, plus about fifty magazines, small parts, and other equipment. In various containers like this one, I had quite a few firearms and thousands of rounds of ammunition, plus some heavier weapons and explosives. I hoped to hell that no one ever broke into it. If that did happen, though, I’d rented the place under one of my assumed identities, and they most likely wouldn’t be able to track me down.

“Have you ever fired a gun before?” I asked.

“Um…no, but…”

“Then you don’t get one. You’re not ready. You have much to learn yet, Brasshopper,” I said, smirking. “Oh, and Austin? Why don’t you leave that camera in here?”

“W…what? I don’t have…”

“Austin,” I said, grinning sardonically, “I wouldn’t have lived this long if I wasn’t observant. I know what you’re trying to do. What filmmaker wouldn’t? But the documentary you’re trying to make will either get us both put in prison or shot by EXODUS. Leave the camera.”

“Okay, fine,” he said grudgingly, and took the small digital video recorder out of his pocket. He placed it on top of one of the lock boxes. I grinned at him. He at least dressed in subdued colors, including that same damned green jacket he always wore. There wasn’t any real need to ninja up like EXODUS, I didn’t think, but you feel weird doing this stuff dressed in bright colors. I wore heavy black jeans, a dark gray sweater, and a thick black denim jacket to keep me warm. Thin leather police gloves covered my hands. I took those off, and then removed my jacket.

Austin seemed taken aback when he saw the revolver on my left hip. It was a stainless steel Smith & Wesson model 629, a .44 Magnum with a three-inch barrel and night sights. I wore it in a Kramer-brand horsehide scabbard on my left hip.

Setting my jacket on the box, I crouched down and opened another one. I then reached in and removed my body armor vest. It was one I’d acquired about a year and a half before; it was level IIIA soft armor with ceramic rifle plates front and back. I undid the Velcro on it and strapped it on.

“What the…?” I said as I put the vest on.

“What’s wrong?” Austin asked.

“I don’t remember it being quite this snug,” I said sheepishly.

“Freshman fifteen?” Austin asked, laughing.

“I guess so! Damn.” I had been slacking off on my workouts over the last few months. Hmph.

“Ah, screw it,” I said, putting the armor back and closing the box. “Shouldn’t need it anyways. ‘Sides I don’t have any for you.” I reached into the first box I’d unlocked and grabbed my chest harness. I dug deeper and retrieved four loaded twenty-round magazines. Each contained a jacketed soft point load that Hawk had rolled for me. It was tailored to work well in my carbine’s short barrel. I inserted three of the magazines into the pouches on the olive drab harness, and stuffed the fourth one into my back pocket. I grabbed my three-point web sling and closed the lock box again. I put all of the items I’d collected into a large hockey bag and zipped it up.

“What is taking so long?” I heard someone say. We turned around, and Ling was standing in the doorway, looking…cross. “Let’s go,” she said, and turned on her heel. Austin and I looked at each other.

“Me-yow,” I said, and he did his best not to laugh out loud. I put my jacket and gloves back on, shouldered the bag, and we stepped back out into the light.

We rode in the back of Ling’s van for more than two hours, most of it in silence. Ling had a satellite phone and spent quite a bit of time talking on it in Chinese. The large fellow driving the van said not one word the entire time. It seemed like an eternity, but eventually the van came to a stop. Austin and I looked up at Ling.

“We wait here,” she said. “Shen, my other teammate, is waiting several miles down the road. He will tell us when the truck passes his position, and then he’ll follow. We’re going to create a road block and ambush the truck.”

“How are we going to block the road?” I asked.

“About half a kilometer ahead of us is a narrow bridge with no margin on either side. We’ will be able to use the van to block the entire road.”

“And what if traffic comes from the other direction?”

“That is why we must act quickly. We believe this to be a little used portion of this road, though.”

“Where are we?” Austin asked.

“Over a hundred kilometers from Marquette.” I looked out the windshield. We were pulled off of the highway and were parked at one of the many Roadside Parks that could be found across rural Michigan. There was nothing to it but a small parking lot and a couple of outhouses.

We waited for what seemed like hours. In all that time, only two cars passed us on the highway, which made me feel better. It was late afternoon when Ling’s phone suddenly rang. She answered it, listened for a moment, said something in Chinese, then hung up.

“Let’s go, Michel,” she said to the large man driving the van.

“Yes ma’am,” he replied, his voice booming and deep. It was the first time we’d heard him speak. Ling looked at me, and her face split into a predatory grin.

“It’s time,” she said. I grinned back at her. It only took us a few minutes to get set up.



CONTINUED NEXT POST...

Nightcrawler
March 6, 2007, 07:57 PM
The highway indeed narrowed over the bridge. There was no margin on either side, so parking the van at an angle blocked the entire road. Michel put on the emergency flashers and we got out. Ling opened the hood of the van and acted like she was having some kind of trouble. Michel concealed himself behind the van, while Austin and I concealed ourselves in the bushes on the east side of the bridge. The truck would be coming from the east, and apparently had a sedan with four men in it escorting it. My job would be to lay into the sedan and eliminate the four guards there. They’d probably only have pistols, but all the same it was critical that they be neutralized. Ling and Michel would deal with the truck’s driver, and Michel would support me if necessary.

Austin and I laid prone in the bushes off of the north side of the highway. I inserted a magazine into my rifle and chambered a round. I looked over at Austin.

“Showtime,” I said, a predatory grin of my own appearing on my face. My body was almost tingling as the calm washed over me, and I felt very still inside. It felt good to be back in the game.

“What if it’s the wrong truck?” Austin asked, sounding nervous.

“That’s why I didn’t give you a weapon. You don’t need that on your hands. Quiet now…it’s almost time. When I open up, you plug your ears. No matter what happens, you stay here and keep quiet, understood?”

“Yeah.” Our guests didn’t keep us waiting.

A large gray semi truck, seeing the blocked bridge, rumbled to a stop just to our right, to where I could see the back doors of the trailer. The front end of the truck was already on the bridge, and there was no way it could turn around without backing up. Since it was stopped, it’d have a hard time crashing through our blockade. In any case, Ling was going to deal with the driver.

Following the truck was a black Chevy Tahoe with Iowa plates. It had four men in it, and it pulled into the left-hand lane and came to a stop next to the truck. I couldn’t see it from where I was, but I saw Ling move from in front of the van towards the driver’s side door of the semi truck. That was my signal.

I looked over at Austin, roughly slapped him on the shoulder, and scrambled to my feet. I dashed across the road and stopped behind the truck’s trailer. I waited for an eternal second; I could hear the semi driver yelling at Ling over the diesel rumble of the truck’s idling engine. I peeked around the back corner of the trailer just in time to see Ling produce a CZ-75B 9mm pistol from under her jacket. Without blinking, she raised the pistol and shot the driver in the face.

Everything moved in slow motion then. I stepped from behind the truck, bringing my FAL up in my left shoulder as I did so. As the muzzle came on target, and the red dot hovered over the Tahoe, I swiped the safety off with my trigger finger and opened fire.

My rifle cracked with authority as I rapidly fired into the Tahoe’s passenger compartment. My rounds entered the vehicle from its right rear. While I was doing that, Michel appeared from behind the van. He leveled an AK-104 rifle with a seventy-five round drum magazine at the front of the Tahoe, and opened up in full auto. The onslaught lasted for only a few seconds. When the bolt on my FAL locked to the rear, the Tahoe had been turned to scrap metal and its occupants had been literally ripped apart.

I lowered my weapon and turned around. As I rounded the back of the trailer, I removed the empty magazine from my rifle and placed it in my jacket pocket. I then removed a magazine from my chest harness, locked it into place, and hit the rifle’s bolt release with my trigger finger. The bolt slammed forward, chambering a fresh round, and I swiped the safety back on.

I looked up from this just in time to see the truck’s passenger-side door burst open. A skinny man with shaved head and a black leather jacket practically fell out of the truck onto the pavement. He had a pistol in his hand, and I ducked back behind the trailer as he raised it and fired off two shots.

****. My heart was beating so hard I could feel it in my ears. That’d been close. I peeked back around the corner of the truck in time to see the man take off running. He was obviously panicking, and ran to the west, attempting to get to the other side of the bridge. I brought the rifle back up, put the red dot on his back, and squeezed off a round.

My bullet hit the man squarely between the shoulder blades just as he was about halfway across the bridge. He shrieked in pain, stumbled, and went tumbling over the guard rail.

I kept my rifle pointed at the truck’s passenger cab as I made my way up its length. As I came to the open door, I saw that there was no one in the cab except the driver, and his brains were all over the windshield. I kept walking, rifle held at the low-ready, until I was halfway across the bridge. Peering over the side, I saw the man that had shot at me. He was laying on his back in the shallow creek that rand under the bridge. The water ran red with his blood. The pistol, a Glock, had landed in the water near him. I leaned forward, aimed my rifle downward, and put another round into him. An eerie silence followed.

“CLEAR!” I shouted.

“Clear!” Ling replied in her accented soprano.

“CLEAR!” Michel said, his voice booming menacingly. I looked around, and exhaled heavily. I then noticed Austin slowly walking out of our hiding spot, his face nearly as white as the snow on the ground. I walked over to him, and slapped him on the shoulder again.

“Like I said, bro. It’s the real world. There’s no going back. You alright?”

“Y…yeah…yeah,” he said, looking at me. “That was intense. You…”

“Never mind,” I interrupted. “Let’s get this truck open and…” I froze as I realized that a vehicle was coming down the road from the east. ****. I pushed Austin alongside the truck’s trailer and leveled my rifle at the oncoming vehicle.

“It’s okay!” I heard Ling yell. “That’s Shen! It’s okay!” I exhaled heavily again and slowly lowered my weapon as a second white van, identical to ours, came to a stop behind the shredded remains of the Tahoe.

A few moments later, we were all standing behind the truck, moving as quickly as we could. Shen, a lean, mean looking fellow, came up with a pair of heavy-duty bolt cutters and cut the lock off of the back of the truck. I let my rifle hang on its sling as I pulled the right hand door of the trailer open.

God in heaven, I thought, please let those girls be in there. The trailer was completely black inside, but strangely warm. I climbed in, and heard whimpering. I pulled a small flashlight from my pocket.

Jesus Christ. There were a dozen girls in the back of the truck, all of them Asian and wearing blue sweat suits. The youngest appeared to be no more than six years old. They were all chained to the bed of the trailer, and the walls and floor were padded to keep them from making noise. The girls were bound, gagged, and squinted as I swept my light over them. Most of them seemed like they were crying, but the one closest to me was trying to say something. As I approached, her eyes widened. She gasped underneath her gag as I snapped open my folding knife. I brought the blade up, and she closed her eyes in terror. I very gently cut the gag off of her head and put the knife away.

“Do you speak English?” I asked. She nodded her head slowly. “Okay, listen to me very carefully. We’re not going to hurt you. Okay? We’re here to rescue you.”

“You…rescue?” she asked. Her English didn’t seem to be very good. ****.

“Ling?” I yelled. “I need you in here. Shen too. Tell him to bring the bolt cutters.”

Fortunately, in addition to Chinese, Ling spoke Japanese fluently. The girl’s name was Azumi, and she said she’d turn sixteen in a month. Ling, sounding softer and more soothing than I would’ve guessed her capable of, got her calmed down. Apparently, these girls had been held together for quite awhile, and Azumi, being the oldest, had done her best to take care of the others. She seemed very protective of the younger girls still; she was a remarkably brave young woman. As quickly as we could, we managed to get the terrified children out of the back of the truck. They looked around in horror at the carnage we’d caused. Fortunately, most of them were too in shock to really absorb what they saw.

Azumi said something to Ling in Japanese, speaking slowly. Ling pointed at me and said something else. Azumi looked at me wide-eyed and began to tear up.

We got most of the girls loaded into Shen’s van, and Michel climbed in with them. Ling, Austin, and I took Azumi and several of the younger girls in the van we’d taken. We got them loaded up, and I volunteered to drive. Austin jumped into the passenger’s seat, and Ling sat in the back with the girls, giving them water and checking them for injuries.

“Where are we going?” I asked.

“To a safe house,” Ling said. Head west.” I looked back at the terrified young girls in the mirror, then over at Austin. He was looking back at them as well. I couldn’t quite put my finger on it, but he looked different than he had before. I smiled to myself. They grow up so fast…

Oleg Volk
March 6, 2007, 09:02 PM
I like stories in which bad critters get torn apart.

Mandirigma
March 6, 2007, 10:46 PM
“It will soon enough,” I said. “That’s the way I felt my first time too. You’ve been living in a fishbowl your entire life, bro. You’re about to see the real world for the first time. This is your last chance to take the blue pill and go back. If you do this things won’t be the same.”


I always liked the Red Kool-Aid :)

the naked prophet
March 7, 2007, 01:01 AM
I like stories in which bad critters get torn apart.

Some people think I'm strange because I think the same way. I like happy endings.

Even something as innocent as Disney's "The Little Mermaid," where the what's-her-name gets impaled at the end. I mean, how many kids movies are there where the bad guy dies at the end, and of those, how many actually have the good guy kill the bad guy?

Not that I'm comparing Nightcrawler's stories to the little mermaid, but if he makes an animated version of it, I'm so totally buying it. But I don't want my kids to see it.

Nightcrawler
March 7, 2007, 01:04 AM
Not that I'm comparing Nightcrawler's stories to the little mermaid

*SNORT* That brought numerous humorous images to mind. I'd love to see this made in the style of a big budget Disney animated motion picture; complete with songs, funny talking animals, and badguys getting double-tapped with .308 soft points.

(Okay, not really. Though, if the guys that did Cowboy Bebop or Ghost in the Shell are reading... :D )

But I don't want my kids to see it.

Child sex slavery is pretty heavy stuff to be explaining to kids. But sm reads my stuff to kids, so I guess it's doable. :)

Mandirigma
March 7, 2007, 01:13 AM
I dunno if I were reading it to kids I'd probably switch the sex with sweatshop. It could work.

Glock22
March 7, 2007, 04:17 AM
You could try making into a Trilogy like star wars of lord of the rings except in cartoon form. I am sure it would be a hit.
The Nightcraweler Chronicles coming to a theatre near you. Presented by Disney and Pixar. This film is not yet rated.

Arkie
March 7, 2007, 09:25 AM
WOW.

It just keeps getting better and better!

It's so well detailed that it seems like you are right there watching everything that's happening!

I love it. :D

falling leaves
March 7, 2007, 01:39 PM
Hey NC - I know I'm getting ahead here, but will book 3 reach far enough along the timeline for Valentine to get his new RFB in action?

BTW, love the work - keep it coming!

steveracer
March 7, 2007, 09:06 PM
You assessment of yourself is correct: You have become a much better writer. Cheers, mate!
Steve

junyo
March 7, 2007, 11:29 PM
“Well…except for where I was really scared and almost died, it was kind of cool,” Austin said.

That's awesome.

DRZinn
March 7, 2007, 11:39 PM
Ummmm.... more, please.

Nightcrawler
March 8, 2007, 03:56 AM
more, please

keep it coming!

I NEED MORE!!!

Update in about seven hours, when I get home from work.

I vote for the distinguished Nightcrawler to be the official bard of THR!

*blush* I'd have to take that up with Oleg... :D

Nightcrawler, you're so AWESOME!

It's a terrible burden. :neener:

Thanks everybody. :o

Geegolly
March 8, 2007, 04:51 AM
Gotta love third shift.

I'm sitting here reading your previous threads while at work and saw that you posted!! I was hoping for another installment. I will make sure not to go to bed until you post your update.

Your stories are doing wonders for my productivity. :p

Correia
March 8, 2007, 10:50 AM
And you guys will have a little more reading here soon. NC has asked me to pitch in again.

It isn't related to this story at all, and actually takes place while NC was still in grade school. Think of it kind of like a bonus feature on a DVD. People who've read the Welcome Back (book II) thread will recognize some of the characters. Keep in mind that my characters didn't interact with NC until book II.

I'll have it up in a couple of days.

Nightcrawler
March 8, 2007, 11:14 AM
9: Reflection


“Where the **** do you get off declaring yourself the boss, Hopper?” Hudson demanded.

“You think all because you shot Decker you get to be in charge?” Triana said.

“Hey!” Corwin interrupted, sounding shaky. “He saved your ****in’ life, Tri!”

“That’s NOT the issue!” she snapped. “Hawk should take over. He’s the last surviving member of the original team.” All eyes in the room shot to Hawk. He sat quietly in the corner, puffing on his cigar and absentmindedly playing with his short beard. He just shrugged. The shouting began anew. We, the surviving members of SWITCHBLADE, sat in a dark, smoky room in our safe house. Corwin was laying on a bunk off to one side, propped up on pillows. It’d take him months to recover from the gunshot wound to his abdomen, but the bullet hadn’t destroyed anything vital. The underground doctor we’d brought him to insisted that he’d probably live.

At the moment, though, I had more pressing issues to deal with. I sat at the end of the table as Jeff, Corwin, Hudson, and Triana all engaged in something of a shouting match with each other. Decker had been the glue that’d held us together, and I’d killed him. It wasn’t going well.

“We should just take the money we’ve already made and split, dude,” Jeff said.

“We can’t do that!” Hudson barked. “We don’t get paid until we complete the contract!”

“I don’t CARE!” Triana yelled. “I want out NOW! I’m ****ing sick of this ****!”

“Maybe you don’t care, but I want to get paid!” Hudson yelled right back at her.

“Yeah,” Corwin managed. “It’d be nice to get something for my trouble, since I got ****ing SHOT over here!”

“Hawk, what do you think?” Jeff asked. Hawk only shrugged. He seemed bemused by the whole thing. I took my glasses off and rubbed my eyes, sighing heavily to myself. We were at the breaking point. Of the original SWITCHBLADE, only Hawk survived. Aryeh, Doc, Ramirez, and now Decker were all dead. The rest of us were rookies that Decker had recruited. He always liked to have promising people in training to replace team members that quit or got killed. He’d brought Corwin and me on at the same time, and Triana was already there when we started. Jeff came a few months later after a job in Southern California. Hudson was the relative new guy; he’d just come on board before we went to South America.

I figured Corwin would back me, and probably Jeff. Triana for whatever reason hated my guts so badly that I don’t think she’d go along with it unless forced. Hudson had a short fuse and would likely contest it. The real question was Hawk, though.

As I pondered this, the arguing and shouting continued. I felt my right eye begin to twitch, and I’d had about enough. **** it, I thought. It was time to assert my authority and lay all of my cards on the table. I put my glasses back on and gritted my teeth.

I stood so quickly that I sent my chair clattering behind me. With my left arm, I swept the mess of bottles, cans, and ashtrays off of the table, sending them crashing to the floor. With my right hand, I pulled my SRK fighting knife from its sheath and slammed it into the table in front of me. Drawing back to my full height, I drew my Smith & Wesson 629 .44 Magnum revolver from the holster on my left hip, and let it hang in my hand, muzzle pointing towards the floor.

“EVERYBODY SHUT THE **** UP!” I screamed. You could’ve heard a pin drop as everyone stared at me wide-eyed. Only Hawk seemed unfazed.

“Listen mother****er, you can’t threaten…” Hudson began, standing up. He instantly fell silent when I leveled the big .44 at his chest. “Hey, just take it easy, Hopper,” he said in much calmer tones.

“Quiet,” I said. “Now sit the **** down.” He did so, and I lowered my weapon. “Now all of you listen to me. You want to know why I’m in charge? Because I’m the only one that has access to Decker’s accounts, where our money is deposited. Anything happens to me, none of you get paid.”

“What?” Jeff asked. Corwin coughed loudly.

“That’s right,” I continued. “Decker gave me his account numbers months ago.”

“Why you? Why wouldn’t he give them to Hawk?”

“Because I’m who y’all would’ve assumed had ‘em,” Hawk said at last. “Decker always had a paranoid streak in ‘im. He changed the account numbers and told Hopper here the new ones. If anybody would’ve made a move on me, he’d’ve had a heads-up that some **** was goin’ down without risking the numbers bein’ compromised. He trusted Hopper.” Hudson swore aloud.

“You guys can do whatever the hell you want,” Triana said. “I’ve had it. I’m ****in’ done.”

“You’re free to go,” I told her flatly. “You will of course forfeit your share of the money.”

“WHAT?” she gasped.

“You know the rules, Triana,” I said. “Any man…or woman…that bails before the contract is completed forfeits his share of the fee.”

“I…” She finally fell silent.

“We have one more mission to complete,” I continued. “Despite our casualties, we’ve completed every single one of our objectives. The client is happy. I got the complete mission dossier from Decker’s laptop and looked it over. Our last target is one of Federov’s associates, a gun runner in French Guiana. We eliminate him and destroy his warehouses and we’ll effectively shut down his entire operation. After that’s accomplished, the client will pay us the entire fee.”

“What’s the fee?” Hudson asked.

“Fifteen million Euros,” I said steadily, causing eyes to grow wide. “Comes to about nineteen million, four hundred thousand dollars. Originally we were all to get equal shares, except Decker, who as SWITCHBLADE 6 got a double share. I’m not taking a double share, and Decker’s share of the money will be divided up equally between us. That comes to about three-point-two-three million dollars for each of us. So if anyone wants to bail, feel free. Me, I’m going to see this ****ing job through to the end, get my money, and go the hell home.

“Listen guys,” I said, my voice softening. “It’s been rough. Christ…we ****ed up bad on that last one. Client doesn’t care, but I do. Doesn’t change anything, though. We can either finish the job and get paid or we can walk away and we don’t get ****. So what’s the word?”

“I’m with the kid,” Hawk said, puffing on his cigar.

“I’m in,” Corwin managed from his bunk. “As much as I can be, I mean.”

“Me too,” Jeff said.

“Fine, I’m in…Boss,” Hudson said. We all looked at Triana.

“**** it, whatever, let’s just get it over with.”

So that’s how it was. At twenty years old I was the commander of one the deadliest mercenary groups in the world. It was a far cry from the awkward high school kid I’d been not even three years before. At that moment, I could hardly even remember what such a mundane existence was like.

Nightcrawler
March 8, 2007, 11:16 AM
It was getting dark when we arrived at our destination. The directions Ling was giving me led to an isolated house on the shore of a frigid lake, surrounded by dense forest. I asked her about the place as I drove the van up the long, winding road that led from the highway to the house itself.

“It is a vacation house of some kind,” she said absentmindedly. “The kind that rich men from the city rent when they want to live in the woods, I think. It is being rented by one of our front companies. It’s isolated enough that we feel it’s a safe place to keep the children until we can get them out of the country.”

“What happens to them then?” I asked, looking at Ling in the rear-view mirror.

“We send them to rehabilitation centers that we’ve set up. Many of the victims we rescue have been brutalized, raped, or subjected to torture. We have trained counselors and psychologists work with the victims for as long as they need. When they are ready, we return them home, if that is where they wish to go. If they cannot return to their homes, we do our best to set them up with documentation so that they can live in some other part of the world. Quite a few volunteer to join the organization in some capacity.”

“We’re here,” I said, pulling to a stop. Ling gently awoke the children. They had all fallen asleep, one of the youngest curled up with Azumi. They drowsily came to as Ling slid the van’s side door open. Austin and I helped herd the bewildered children into the house as Ling unlocked the door.

“Where did the other van go?” Austin asked.

“To another safe house, Mr….I apologize. I don’t believe I know your name.”

“My name?” Austin said, taken aback. “Oh, my name is…Steve. I’m Steve.” I did my best to suppress a laugh as Ling gave him an odd glance.

“Well then, Mr. Steve,” she went on, “we thought it best that they be moved to different locations, in case one van or the other was compromised. At this point, getting the victims to safety is the only priority. If one or more of us are captured or killed, so be it, so long as the victims go free.”

“I…see…” Austin said, apparently surprised by the bluntness of Ling’s response. As we got the young girls into the house, I stood in the foyer of the place and looked around. It was huge, and pretty swank. The front door led into a large, heated porch. From there, the main living space of the house opened wide. It had a fireplace on one wall, and huge bay windows overlooking the lake. Stairs off to one side led to the upper level, where there appeared to be four bedrooms. Below those was the kitchen and a dining room.

“Wow,” I said, taking the place in.

“Pretty nice,” Austin agreed.

“Ah, you’re here!” a voice said. Alarm bells went off in my head, and everything in me switched on. My .44 was clear of its holster and pointing at the person who’d just spoke before he could say another word. He was standing in the doorway to the kitchen. He froze in shock, staring at the big revolver in my hands.

“Who the **** are you?” I asked, finger moving to the trigger.

“WAIT!” Ling almost screamed. She jumped in front of me, eyes burning, and pushed my weapon downward. “He’s one of us! He’s one of us!” I took a deep breath, and took my finger off of the trigger. Re-holstering the weapon, I looked down into Ling’s eyes.

“Why didn’t you tell me there was someone here? Christ, I thought we were being ambushed.”

“I didn’t realize you were so edgy, Mr. Hopper,” she said, glaring at me.

“Hey man, sorry about that,” I said to the man over Ling’s shoulder. Her hair flipped wildly behind her as she turned and strode off, muttering something in Chinese.

“That’s…quite alright, young man. I understand how things can be out there. I used to go into the field myself, before I got injured.” He had a German accent.

“Who are you?” I asked.

“I’m Doctor Bundt,” he said, extending his hand. He was a tall, pale man, with a frock of white hair and an odd moustache. I took his hand and he gave it one crisp vertical shake, the way Germans like to do it. “Are you new to the organization?”

“I’m…a contractor,” I said steadily. “Ling hired me to fill in a gap in her team. My name is Michael Valentine. That,” I said, pointing at Austin, “Is my associate, er…Steve.”

“I see!” the Doctor said. “Well Mr. Valentine, if you’ll be so kind as to help me get the girls upstairs, I’ll examine them to see if they need medical attention. After that, we’ll being making dinner.”

“How long are we going to be here?” Austin asked. “I need to call Becca,” he said then, quietly so only I could hear.

“Use my phone,” I said. “Do not tell her where we are, okay? Seriously.” He nodded, took my cell phone, and exited out a sliding glass door next to the bay windows. It led to a balcony that overlooked the lake. I picked up one of the younger girls and followed Dr. Bundt upstairs.

About two hours later, Austin an I were sitting alone at a large table in the dining room, enjoying what had to be the best meal I’d had in months. Dr. Bundt could cook. The Doctor himself had taken his own food upstairs, after taking meals up for each of the six girls. After everything that had happened that day, it was nothing less than surreal to be eating dinner in such a nice house.

“Why’d she call you ‘Hopper’, Mike?” Austin asked.

“What? Oh. That’s what I used to go by when I was on SWITCHBLADE. EXODUS’ intelligence wasn’t able to come up with my new name.”

“Hopper better not be your real name.” he said dubiously before taking another bite of lasagna.

“No,” I said after taking a sip of my milk.

“Then what is your real name?” he asked. I sighed.

“You know, I haven’t spoken my real name, not even once, since…well, since that day, when my mother died. I left that behind, bro. Gave it up.”

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I don’t mean to pry, I…I don’t know. This whole thing is bizarre.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Thank you for coming, though, and for sticking with me.”

“What are you thanking me for? I feel useless. I didn’t do anything.”

“Don’t sweat it, dude. Everyone’s gotta start somewhere. My first mission with SWITCHBLADE involved me doing nothing more than watching from across the street with a pair of binoculars and a radio. I didn’t get a weapon until later.”

“So are you training me, then?” Austin asked. I stopped chewing, swallowed hard, and looked up at him.

“I’ll teach you if you want. I’ll teach you to shoot, tradecraft, stuff like that. I’m not much of an instructor, though. But you’re not getting sucked into this like I did. I know it seems pretty cool right now. Took out the bad guys, rescued young girls, now we’re eating lasagna in this fancy rich-bitch house. It stops being cool when you start burying your friends, Austin. I’ve been to too ****in’ many funerals already.”

I understood where Austin was coming from. For a lot of people, once you get a taste of the life, it’s hard to go back to mundane reality. But this mission had gone better than most do, and even so we’d killed six men. I think he realized that, though. I figured he just felt a little out of place, being the quintessential Average Joe caught up in all of this. That’d pass, though. Austin, I thought, was made of tougher stuff than he gave himself credit for, but I doubted he was cut out for my line of work. I thanked God for that. He didn’t know how much being friends with normal people had done for my sanity.

Nightcrawler
March 8, 2007, 11:18 AM
A few hours later, I stepped out of the bedroom that Austin and I were being put up in. The children were all together on cots and air mattresses in one room; the Doctor thought that they’d be more comfortable if they were all together. The Doctor himself had retired as well. Wondering if Ling was asleep, I made my way downstairs intending to raid the fridge. The large, open room was illuminated only by the fireplace as I crept down the stairs. It was then that I noticed Ling was standing outside on the balcony, alone.

I looked into the kitchen, back at Ling, then back to the kitchen. I took a deep breath, and walked towards the sliding glass door that led to the balcony.

“Hello,” she said, not looking at me. It was cold out, and I didn’t have my jacket, but was still wearing my sweater. The night was remarkably clear, and the moon was bright overhead.

“Standing watch?” I asked, standing next to her and gazing into the starry sky.

“Yes. I’ll wake the Doctor up in an hour.”

“Nah,” I said. “I’ve slept. I’ll take over. You can go to bed.”

“Thank you,” she said, still not looking at me. She too was gazing into the night sky.

“Hey, I’m sorry about earlier,” I said awkwardly. I looked over at Ling, and suddenly felt strange. Her long black hair seemed to shimmer in the moonlight, and her slender figure was almost luminous. I realized then, for the first time I think, how beautiful she actually was.

“I apologize as well. I should have told you there was someone in the house. Your reaction was no different than mine would have been, though your choice of weapon is rather odd. You have an impressively fast draw, though,” she said, looking at me and smiling. It wasn’t the smile of the hunter close to her quarry, or the cold false smile she’d originally shown me. Ling really smiled at me for the first time, and my heart jumped up into my throat.

“You think?” I said, grinning. Wow, I thought. I’m not even nervous.

“Typical American cowboy to carry a big revolver,” she said with a little laugh. I laughed too.

“Not really. Most Americans like their little automatics too. Think they’re badass if they carry a forty-five. Feh. Eight hundred feet per second and they act like it’s the hammer of God. I mean, it’s okay, I have a couple, but it’s not the be-all-end-all people act like it is. To be honest, though, the first pistol I ever had was a nine-millimeter CZ not that different from yours.”

“I’m rather fond of it,” she said. “I’ve had this pistol for several years now.”

“If you don’t mind me asking,” I went on, “how long have you been with EXODUS?” Ling scanned the far edge of the lake with a pair of bulky night vision binoculars.

“They rescued me in Hong Kong when I was sixteen,” she said, lowering the binoculars. ”I have been with the organization ever since. Their instructors took me in and made me who I am now.”

“I was seventeen when I got sucked into this ****,” I said. “We seem to have a lot in common though.”

“I think we do, Michael,” she said. I was happy that she was using my first name again. This is going well, I thought. Wait a minute. What am I talking about? This is business. After tonight I’m never going to see her again. Get a grip.

“So tell me,” she said after a long pause, “why…” she paused suddenly. I heard the sliding glass door open, and turned to see young Azumi standing there in the moonlight.

“Mich-ael-sama?,” she asked in rough English. It sounded like she was having trouble with my name.

“Uh…yes?”

“I would like to…I mean…” she flushed and bowed deeply. “Thank you. Thank you and Ling-sama. Thank you for…for…” She teared up and drifted back into Japanese. I don’t know what she said, but Ling looked touched. Azumi just stood there bowing. I reached out and patted her on the shoulder; she responded by grabbing me in a bear hug and squeezing me. I saw Ling fail miserably at hiding a giggle as I gently patted the skinny Japanese girl on the back.

“Go back to bed, darlin’,” I said. “Get some sleep. You’ve been through a lot, and you’ve handled it better than most people would’ve.”

“Thank you,” she said, pulling away and blushing even deeper than before. “Thank you, Senpai.” With that she turned and went back into the house, closing the door behind her. I heard Ling giggling still.

“What? What does ‘sem-pai’ mean?”

“It’s an honorific given to someone with more experience, or to someone you look up to. I think you have a fan.” For the first time in a long time, I felt myself blush, and Ling laughed again.

We stood there talking for a long time. I couldn’t remember the last time I felt so relaxed around a woman I was that attracted to. I felt so comfortable with her. She knew who I was, what I was, and she accepted that without a second thought. I couldn’t even express how that made me feel.

“Michael,” she said, “what are you doing here? You’re in your prime. Why do you not go back to work?”

“SWITCHBLADE ended badly,” I said. “There were eight of us when I started, and we picked up a ninth a little later. Then one got killed and we found a replacement. Then we went to South America…Christ. Two more died, and then…well, it’s not important. I’ve…done terrible things, Ling. Things I regret. Innocent people got killed. I didn’t know, but they were just in the wrong place at the wrong time. We split up, I came home. I grew up not too far from here.”

“I understand regret,” she said. “I understand pain. But…Michael, join EXODUS. You’re very good at what you do, and I need someone I can trust on my team. Our war never ends. There are always more innocent lives to save.”

“By killing the wicked,” I added.

“Yes. But it’s no less than they deserve. Do you disagree?”

“No, I don’t. I won’t be losing any sleep over the human filth we killed today, either. But how do you wash blood from your hands with more blood?”

“It isn’t about the killing. It’s about those girls upstairs, and countless others like them in need of our help. Please, just consider my offer. I will leave my contact number with you when I leave. Now…” she yawned widely, “Oh, excuse me. I really should get some sleep. Are you sure you don’t mind standing watch?”

“Not at all,” I said. “Get some sleep. I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Good night, Michael,” she said. She handed me the binoculars and left my side.

“Good night,” I said, watching her as she stepped through the door and closed it behind her. Butterflies raced around my stomach; I looked back up at the night sky, asking it many questions. The sky offered no answers.

hacksaw
March 8, 2007, 12:03 PM
Just as the DT's were setting in ....Nightcrawler to the rescue!!!



now post more!!!! I'm hooked! I got a Nightcrawler on my back & need to fix!

Fly320s
March 8, 2007, 02:27 PM
NC, you're doing well.

I see a marked improvement over your previous work; your writing is smoother, fuller. The characters have more definition and personality.

Keep working on the details such as character development and setting the scene. It helps fill-in the story. When you get good at that, then we will cry over the innocent mothers being killed.

Thanks for the stories. I thoroughly enjoy reading them.

Correia
March 8, 2007, 03:35 PM
Sweothi City, Central African Republic.

December 15th, 1993.

1:25 PM.

The hotel had been evacuated since the government had collapsed, and revolution had spilled over the countryside, but the lobby still stank of stale cigarette smoke and sweat. Random cries, crowd noise, and honking horns resonated through the windows as the seemingly endless mob of refugees surged through the streets.

The refugees did not know they were doomed. With the Mouvement pour la Libération du Centrafricain (MLC) rebels tearing up the Ubangi river basin, there was no escape. And from what I had seen in the last forty-eight hours, they didn’t take prisoners. The CAR Army was in shambles from the coup, with half of them joining the rebels, and the other half fleeing for the Congolese border.

The lobby had become our improvised command center. Furniture, debris, and even some of the planking from the walls had been stacked against the doors to deter adventurous looters. Ramirez was on the roof, armed with a DP and a radio. So far the MLC hadn’t made a move against the city, but they were massing, and every escape route was blocked.

There were twenty men in the lobby. Two separate groups forced together, uneasy allies with only one chance for survival. You could feel the anxiety in the air, a physical buzz, almost louder than the refugee train outside. All of them were filthy, armed to the teeth, exhausted, and aware that death was coming, and it was coming hard and fast.

SWITCHBLADE was headed by Decker, the dispassionate mercenary leader. Someone had scrounged up a chalkboard, probably stolen from the missionary school next door, and he was busy drawing a rudimentary map of the city and the route that the rebel army was most likely going to use to assault it. Os were the bad guys. Xs and arrows showed his plan. Each X was one of us. Each arrow was an order given in a cold, emotionless, voice.

There weren’t very many Xs on that map. There were a whole lot of Os.

Hawk, the weathered old gunslinger, was second in command. The old man always made me think of those gun magazines I had read as a kid, with the stories about blazing sixguns on the border. He was seemingly unfazed, even in our current situation. Cuzak sat on a barstool, head wrapped in a blood stained rag, still in shock from the landmine that had splattered Irwin all over the rest of us. Areyh, the former Israeli commando, was squatting next to the board, memorizing the plans while he ran a bore brush frantically through a Galil. Doc was our medic, and he was off to the one side attending to one of the wounded Portuguese mercs. I had a feeling that Doc was going to have a long day.

And me.

And that was all that was left of the illustrious mercenary company called SWITCHBLADE.

******* Decker. **** Decker and his ******* mission. He should have listened to me. If he hadn’t been so damn sure of himself, so damn proud, Irwin, Slick, and Sam would still be alive.

I hid my emotions behind a mask of mud and dried blood, and went back to dispassionately cleaning the Yugoslavian RPK that I had stolen, listening to Decker’s defensive plans, but already making plans of my own.

The other half of our ragtag group of survivors were all that remained of the Portuguese mercenary company out of Angola. They had been hit worse than us. Nobody had expected the rebels to be this well organized and equipped, but apparently the Montalban Diamond Exchange had brought in a large group of Cubans to train up the disorganized MLC. The Ports had lost most of their leadership in the last skirmish, and the only thing holding them together was a short, angry, hairball of a man named Sergeant Gomes.

“If we put up enough of a fight along these streets, then the rebels will commit their reserves. Currently that reserve is blocking here, and here. And as far as we can tell, those are the shock troops. The groups moving into the city now are the irregulars. With them out of the way, we can then retreat down Kahiba road toward Manova-Gounda. Then it’s a straight shot, fifteen clicks, to the airfield,” Decker explained calmly. “The plane is fueled, and ready to go, but they will not wait for us if the rebels approach the airfield. We do not have much time.”

He was calm now. He was calm when he got us into this suicide mission. Calm when we overthrew a government and brought hell down on these people to placate a diamond company, and he would probably be calm when I put my knife in his throat. I snapped a fresh drum into the Yugo and worked the charging handle.

“It’ll be tight, but we can fit in the truck, all of us,” the leader of the Portuguese said, referring to the deuce and a half they had stashed in the hotel garage. His English sounded strange, and had probably been taught to him by an Afrikaner. “Who’s gonna cause enough problems to get a division worth of rebels to concentrate enough to let us slip out though?”

“We’ll need a diversion. Someone will need to cause enough resistance to stall the irregulars, here,” he gestured at the board, “long enough for them to call in the Cubans and the trained MLC. We’ll need someone who can fight, and then slip away once we escape, someone who can disappear, go to ground. Stealth will be their only chance to evade capture.” He looked right at me as he said it.

So he knew.

I should have kept my mouth shut after this operation went to hell. But I didn’t. I violated my own rule of always being the grey man, the one that didn’t draw attention. The thief in the background. I had let my emotions get the better of me. And Decker must have sensed my anger.

And over the last year, he had seen what happened to people who made me angry.

So this was how it was going to be.

“Ozzie,” he nodded toward me. “I think you would be the only person who would have a chance.” Decker was good, very good. He didn’t display any indication that he was disposing of me. Rather, he was just the good leader, picking the best man for the job. “We’re counting on you. Force them to pull their reserves, if not, we’ll have to try a frontal assault, and since they have those APCs, it would be suicide in the open.”

The only surviving radio in the room suddenly crackled with static. Every head in the room swiveled towards it. “This is Ramirez. Milita forces are moving into the south end of the city. Looks like they’re going to burn it all.”

The room was silent, then broken by a gout of coughing from one of the wounded mercs who had caught shrapnel in the lung.

“Do you mind if we have a word about this, in private?” I asked, perfectly calm.

Decker made a show of looking at his watch. “Certainly, but we had best hurry.” He gave an imperceptible nod towards Hawk. They had been around, and knew what was happening.

“No ****,” Sergeant Gomes said, as a mortar shell exploded somewhere in the city.

######

“It didn’t have to be like this,” Decker said, as strolled into the side room. He had his back to me. The spot between his shoulder blades and the ALICE suspenders was an inviting target, and I could feel the heavy weight of the combat knife on my hip. But Hawk was trailing behind me, and as fast as I was, I knew that Hawk was that much faster with that revolver.

“It is what it is,” I replied, too damn tired to try to put on any sort of act. “We killed the president. We caused this. The diamond exchange used us, and you let them.”

“How long have you been with SWITCHBLADE?” He asked, already knowing the answer. “A year, yes, a year. And honestly...” he finally turned to face me, his eyes sad, his spirit injured by the events of the last two days. “I saw great things in your future. You were nothing but a common thief when you joined us...”

“I was an exceptional thief.”

He ignored that. “But I saw a leader, a man that could make a difference. I could see you taking over, and running this organization.” Decker was sincere, at least. That I could tell, but sincerity doesn’t make a rattlesnake any less venomous.

“If you haven’t noticed, half your organization is dead, because you ****** up.”

“I know...” Decker said, his voice cracking, the pain obvious. “This is the end of SWITCHBLADE. Even if we make it out, the diamond exchange will have us hunted down like dogs. I’m sorry about the men. They… they were like family to me.” I could hear the creak of gun leather as Hawk shifted behind me.

Also true, but it didn’t make me hate him any less right then.

“And I know that’s why you’re going to do your best to slow down these rebels. Because I know that Ramirez, and Doc, and Cuzak are like brothers to you, and you won’t let them down,” Decker said simply.

“True,” I answered.

“You had better hurry.” Decker put his hand on my shoulder. “I’m sorry,” he said. And I believed him.

And that was the only reason I decided not to kill him.

######

The refugees were panicking now, turning from individuals, into a deadly entity, discarding and crushing bits of itself underfoot. Screams filled the air. In the distance could be heard the boom of mortars and sporadic automatic weapons fire. The boards that had been blocking the front door flew into the street in a spray of dust as I booted them hard and pushed my way into the street.

It was hot. Muggy, sticky hot, and sweat rolled down my back and soaked my camouflage. The air stank of oil and smoke and fear.

The group had been low on ammo after two days of furious combat and retreat, but I had still commandeered every piece of hardware that I could carry. I had the RPK in hand, our last RPG slung over one shoulder, Cuzak’s Ithaca 37 over the other shoulder (he was in no shape to fight anyway), a Browning Hi-Power on my belt, and every spare round of ammo and frag grenade that I could scrape up. Any more munitions and I wouldn’t be able to move. Tsetse flys kept landing on my face to probe the dried blood patches.

Doc had tried to stop me. He understood what was happening, that I was a threat to Decker, and therefore expendable. I had just shook my head, and made him promise to get the wounded to safety. Cuzak hadn’t said a word, but he shook my hand solemnly, knowing what I was about to do. If I had one weakness, it was that when I occasionally made a friend, I was too damn loyal.

And it was about to kill me.

Decker gave me a brief nod. Hawk tipped his hat in my direction. Areyh spit on the floor.

So this was the end of SWITCHBLADE.

The others exited, fanning out, forming a perimeter around the hotel, where they would hold until Ramirez, acting as our spotter, could see that the road was clear. If I failed, their only choice was to attack straight into the Cubans and try to break through to the airfield. They would never make it. I walked away, the deadly mob of women, children, and old men parting before me like water, leaving the last year of my life behind, and knowing that I was probably going to perish in the next few minutes. The terrified Africans moved out of my way, my anger like an invisible plow.

The CAR was a blighted land. Torn by war for generations, poor beyond all comprehension, and I knew that probably 20% of these refugees would be dead in the next ten years from AIDS even if they managed to somehow survive the machetes of the approaching rebels. And we had come here, paid in blood money, to topple their corrupt government, and install another corrupt government that the diamond exchange liked better. And even then, the exchange had sold us out.

What a waste.

Then there was someone pushing forward with me. Sergeant Gomes, the Portuguese mercenary, was at my side, his burly form cradling the Port’s PKM machine gun. A stubby Steyr Aug was tied around him with a discarded web belt serving as a sling. His oddball camouflage was ripped, blood stained, and every exposed patch of skin was covered in caked on mud. He looked hideous.

But happy. “Let’s kill a bunch of these rebel sons of bitches,” he grinned, his beady eyes narrowing dangerously.

“What’re you doing?” I shouted over the chaos.

“My men? They’re in no shape to fight. So I figure, nothing I can do for them,” he shrugged. “You could use the help. Might as well go fight.”

Couldn’t argue with that.

He stuck out his hand. It was calloused and strong. “Call me Carl.”

I had been going by Ozzie for the last year, but I knew that I couldn’t go back. Even if I lived through this battle, it would be best if I disappeared. I knew that the diamond exchange could not afford to allow any of SWITCHBLADE to survive, knowing the things that we knew. And if they didn’t get me, then Decker might very well try, just to tie up loose ends. It was time to start over, to disappear, to become grey again.

I thought of the first name that popped into my head.

“Lorenzo... My name is Lorenzo.”

#####

Correia
March 8, 2007, 03:55 PM
Sweothi City, Central African Republic.

December 15th, 1993.

2:15 PM

The crowd thinned out enough for the two of us to break into a run, counter intuitively, towards the sound of gunfire. Normally I was the type that liked to plan, but there was no time for that.

This part of Sweothi City was rougher than the rest. Half the buildings were the stacked mud brick type, but compressed between them was a maze of shantys built out of things like chicken wire, packing crates, and old tires. Some of them were already burning.

Carl grabbed me by the arm and pointed down the street into the emptying marketplace. Black smoke was rising from the neighborhood behind it. “The irregulars will come through here.”

“How do you know?”

“I’ve been fighting in Africa since my people lost Mozambique. They’ll come through here because they’re stupid rabble and it’s obvious. They’ll want to loot the shops, rape the stragglers.” He swept his hand to the right, and pointed down the other intersection. “When the Cubans come, they’ll move up this street, and then try to flank us through the shantys on the north. That’s how those commie bastards will do it.”

I nodded quickly, trying to burn the layout into my mind.

“Stick and move. Don’t let them pin you down. Most of these ****-******* can’t shoot for ****, but they shoot a lot.” Carl hefted the massive PK. “Always attack. Make them react. Got it?”

“Got it.”

My pulse was pounding in my head as I turned and headed into the market and towards the rising smoke plumes of black tire-fueled smoke. The 75 round drum in the RPK was heavy and pendulous at the balance point as I let the muzzle lead the way. I moved in a crouch, Carl slightly behind me, gun shifting toward every sudden flash of movement. Several scrawny dogs ran past, tails between their legs.

Then I saw the first of the rebels. I raised my fist, signaling contact. We both crouched low and moved into the shadows beneath a meat stand. A thick black cloud of flys covered the hanging goats and chickens. A can of generic bug spray was under foot, surely used to spray the meat down to keep the flys off.

The first of the MLC were making their way through the bazaar, kicking over stands, and picking up anything left that looked shiny. They really were rabble. Nothing like the disciplined troops we had fought earlier. Most of them were scrawny, malnourished, conscripts wide-eyed with fear, or barely coherent on khat. I hunkered down, waiting for more of them to come into view before I opened fire.

Then there was a scream to the side. A woman. Carl and I both jerked towards the noise, just in time to see two of the rebels dragging a young girl by the hair from one of the brick houses into the street. She was hysterical, with tears running down her dark cheeks.

Carl’s machinegun shifted towards the two men, but I grabbed his arm and shook my head. The rebels hadn’t seen us yet. I jerked my thumb towards myself, made a slashing motion across my throat, and then pointed at the two would be rapists. Carl nodded, and trained his weapon back towards the rebels collecting in the market. We only had one belt for the machine gun, and needed to make the most use of it.

I put the RPG, RPK, and Ithaca on the ground, as quietly as possible, and drew the Vietnam era Air Force knife from my belt. I slid under the booth, and crawled through the dirt, brushing between hanging meat, and half gutted chickens, using every shadow and piece of cover. Luckily my Rhodesian camouflage was so crusted with filth that I was the same color as the earth. I covered the thirty feet to the first rebel in a matter of seconds. This was my element. No one could move quieter or faster than I could.

The men were distracted. The first had shoved the girl down and was trying to rip her clothes off as she thrashed and screamed. He was obviously inexperienced at this whole pillaging thing, and the girl was wailing on him.

The second man, got tired of waiting, lowered his machete, and pushed the younger man aside. “Ashti sangha m’baka, dummy.”

I moved in a blur, my knife humming through the air. I hit the first man in the base of the neck. The knife jabbed in under his ear, and out in a flash of red. The second man had time to turn, shock registering on his face, just as I kicked his knee cap backward. He went down on top of the girl. I grabbed him by the hair, jerked his head back, and slashed him across the jugular.

Neither man was making noise now, but both were thrashing spraying arterial fluids everywhere. They would be dead in seconds. The girl looked up at me in shock as I grabbed the rags that served as her assailant’s shirt and hauled him off of her.

“Run.”

She heeded my suggestion, leapt to her feet, and ran, trying to hold her torn clothing closed. I heard motion coming from the open door of her house, and quickly moved against the hot brick wall. Dripping knife held in a reverse grip, close to my chin.

Another rebel walked out of the house, AK in one hand, dangling useless, the other hand was holding some gaudy, cheap, necklace up to the sunlight. He was grinning from ear to ear, pleased with his plunder.

Enjoy it mother-******.

He paused, realizing that his two friends were the source of all that blood, just as I grabbed him by the top of the head, jerked it back, and rammed the combat knife straight down, just above the junction of his neck and sternum. I used the knife against his ribs like a lever to force him to his knees as I sawed through his aorta. I yanked the knife out and let him thud lifeless to the ground. I wiped the knife on his pants, sheathed it, and grabbed his AK. The whole thing had taken less than twenty seconds.

Carl was staring at me in slack-jawed wonderment as I slithered back through the hanging meats.

"Filho da Puta.”

“Yeah. I get that a lot,” I muttered as I slung the RPG and the shotgun. I now had a Kalashnikov in each hand. This was getting kind of extreme.

“Contact right,” Carl hissed.

Sure enough, there was the main body of the irregulars. Now they were clustered in the marketplace, fighting like dogs over the scraps of a ruined civilization. There were at least thirty of them, armed with everything from meat cleavers to grenade launchers, and they were not worried about resistance.

“On three,” his voice was a whisper as he slowly extended the PKM’s bipod. “One mag, then run like hell back to the intersection.”

“One.” I proned out behind the AK, using the magazine as a monopod, and centered it on a knot of men. They were less than one hundred meters away.

“Two,” Carl hissed as he took up slack on the trigger.

“Three,” I moved the selector to full.

BBBBRRAAAAAAPPPPP... BBBBRRAAAAAAPPPPP...

The PKM was horrendously loud as it cut a swath through flesh and bone. Whole knots of the rebels disintegrated in clouds of red as the 7.62x54R tore into them in great piercing blows. As Carl was swinging a reaper’s scythe, I tried to pick out anything he was missing. I centered the front sight on a running rebel, and cranked off a burst.

The wall six feet to his side exploded under the impact.

“****!”

The sights on this thing were so far off that aiming was useless. I held the trigger down and swept the muzzle across the market, emptying the magazine in one burst. I let go of the AK, and let it flop to its side. I was to Carl’s left, and the steel cases from the PK hit me with brutal impacts. I scooped up the RPK and prepared to cover his withdrawal.

Carl was saying something repetitive in Portuguese with every burst. In seconds, our hundred-round belt was gone. “Moving!” Carl shouted as he jumped up from behind the smoking beast.

“Move!” I answered as I scanned for threats. Carl ran for the intersection while pulling the Aug from its makeshift sling. The market was a mess, with the dead and dying spread everywhere. The rebels were in disarray, but that wouldn’t last long. Already there was movement as more came in from the south. I sighted in on one charging man, and stroked the trigger. The Yugo barked, and the man pitched forward into the street. At least this one was sighted in.

“Go!” Carl shouted as he took up position behind a brick wall.

I sprang to my feet, and leapfrogged past him, sliding into a position behind a bank of broken cinderblocks. The RPG on my back made it hard to maneuver, and damn near impossible to get low.

Several of the very brave, or very stupid, moved out into the open. In African warfare, you could often get away with this, as the fundamentals of marksmanship were not really known or taught by very many people here. For Carl and I however, marksmanship was apparently not a problem. The rebels went down in a quick hail of gunfire.

The street was silent.

“Hey, Carl?” I shouted.

“Yeah, Lorenzo?” He answered as he slammed another magazine into his Aug.

“What were you saying over and over while you were shooting that machine gun.”

“I try to keep my bursts at about five or seven rounds. So I say something that takes about that long, and hold the trigger the whole time.”

“What do you use?” I shouted back. A head popped up from behind a donkey cart, and disappeared just as quickly as I fired a couple rounds through the wood.

“Fala te la madre.” He said it slowly and deliberately.

“Huh?”

“Word to your mother.”

Carl hadn’t struck me as too surly to be a hip hop kind of guy. “What now?” We had bloodied them, but I didn’t know what it was going to take to get those Cuban’s attention, and get them off that damn road.

“Give them a minute, to get puffed up, get over the shock, and then they’re gonna charge. Then it won’t stop until we’re dead, or they’re dead. So let the dumb ones get popped in the open, and then we’ll fall back into the houses and alleys,” he nodded with his head in one direction, “and counterattack. When we hear the commie’s vehicles, fall back to this position so we can hit the intersection.”

Then it was on. Rebels poured through the marketplace. Some ran straight at us, firing from the hip, others hung their guns around corners and blazed away. It was chaos. None of them could shoot worth a damn, but they made up for it in volume. Bullets tried to fill the empty spaces. The cinderblocks around me exploded into powder, and clouds of dust and smoke, and I swear some of those guys must have been shooting black powder from all the smoke. I fired at everything that moved, and put rounds through anything that looked suspicious.

“Reloading!” Carl shouted as I hammered a line of impacts through some shantys. “Move to the buildings! Go! Go!”

The whole ******* world had gone insane. I was up and moving as fast as I could, hot lead all around me, sounding like angry bees. The RPK sparked hard and spun from my hands, torn nearly in half. The hot muzzle smashed me in the face and my feet flew out from under me. I crashed into the gravel as gouts of flame tore all around.

“Technical!” Carl shouted as he lumbered past me, grabbing me by the straps of my LBV and pulling me up. This particular technical was a red Toyota pickup with a massive 12.7 DhSK machine gun mounted on the back. I hadn’t heard it roll up behind us in the intersection.

The huge gun tracked over us, spitting bullets past us, and into the soldiers on their own side. Carl shoved me through an open doorway, and into the cool darkness.

I lay on the floor, breath coming in ragged gasps. It was actually quiet. Or I think it was quiet. It was hard to tell over the ringing in my ears.

“Are you hit?” Carl shouted as he quickly poked his head through the door.

“I don’t think so,” I answered.

“Good.” Carl pulled back, just as the doorway exploded into mud fragments. The DhSK was seeking us again, probing for us with bullets bigger than my pinky finger. “****!”

Now it was brighter as sunshine streamed through the fresh new holes in the wall. This home was a simple, one room dwelling. There was a backdoor. I crawled toward it, rolled over, yanked Cuzak’s 12 gauge, and kicked the simple plywood door open. Leaning out, I could see that the door led into an alley. I scanned the other direction and—

CRACK

“Damn it!” I screamed as the bullet flew through the plywood and past my face. I fell into the dirt alley, right at the feet of a rebel. He looked down at me in surprise as he tried to work the bolt on his Mosin Nagant. I smashed the Ithaca’s steel buttplate into his groin. He stumbled back, as I rose and smashed his skull in with another butt strike. I brought it down twice more in rapid succession, each impact a meaty thud. He slid slowly down the wall.

Someone else appeared around the corner, and I raised the shotgun without thinking, front bead centering on his head. I froze, as the unarmed old man raised his open hands and begged for his life. My trembling finger had almost pulled the trigger.

“Get down!” I shouted at the old man as the DhSK raked through the house again, with the bullets passing through multiple walls and into the alley. The old man vanished back around the corner.

I had to take out that machine gun. Now. I sprinted down the alley in the direction of the noise. I could hear Carl breathing hard as he tore after me. The alley was long, and twisty, with each mud house having a backdoor. “Watch our back!” I shouted as I thought about all those openings behind us.

The Aug barked twice. “On it!” Carl answered.

There was movement ahead, one of the plywood doors flew open, and the muzzle of an SKS snaked through. The rebel stepped through the doorway, and I blasted him in the face with a round of double aught, pumped it, and swung around the door. The little house was packed with soldiers. Packed.

They looked at me. I looked at them. That one second stretched into eternity.

Then everybody moved.

Cuzak’s gun was the old style with no disconnector, so you just held down the trigger and pumped and it kept shooting, it also had an extended magazine, but I didn’t stop to think about those facts at the time.

BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM BOOM click.

“Meu Deus,” Carl gasped as he viewed over my shoulder.

I reached one shaking hand into my pocket, pulled out some more buckshot, and started feeding them into the loading port.

“We’ve got to keep moving.”

2:22 PM

####

DRZinn
March 8, 2007, 04:15 PM
Got a small nit to pick:

It's highly unlikely that a Portuguese mercenary would spout off in Spanish.

"Madre de Dios" is Spanish. More likely would be "Meu Deus." (My God) or "Nossa Senhora" (Our Lady), or "Filho da Puta" (Son of a Bitch), or something along those lines.

"Fala" is Portuguese, and "...te la madre" is Spanish, although the grammar sounds strange. But, I don't speak Spanish. I don't know what I'd replace it with that would allow you to keep th hip-hop reference, but I might say something like "Vai tomar no cú" (Go take it/you're taking it in the a--) slowly and rhythmically for the same purpose. Picture iambic pentameter rhythm. But, that's a Brazilian saying that might not be heard from a Portuguese.

Correia
March 8, 2007, 04:19 PM
Interesting. I am Portugese. I don't speak it, but all of my family is Azorean (Terceira) and I've always heard it in that manner. Filho de puta was my grandpa's favorite sentence though. :)

Fala te la madre came about because in 1992 I was in highschool, and my Port. friends translated all the popular songs. Baby got back is a lot funner to sing when it starts out with me gushta couhs grans ane no me tida.

I can't spell it or speak it, so I'll take your word for it and adjust accordingly.

And when I shoot a PK, I use "I'm killing a family of five." That is about seven rounds. :)

DRZinn
March 8, 2007, 04:41 PM
I figured you were Portuguese from the name. I know that continental Portuguese is different from what I speak, so I guess I could be wrong.

Actually, I'll email the head of the Portuguese department here at school. Hold on....

Correia
March 8, 2007, 04:55 PM
Doc, and my folk's language isn't even continental. From what I've seen, mainlanders can't hardly speak to Azoreans. We're like Atlantic rednecks. And even families from the different islands dislike each other. My people were 3/4 from Terceira, and 1/4 from Flores, and they mistrusted St. George, because you know, the people from that island were "different". :)

So for continuity, Carl is from Terceira. :D (which I did actually say in one point during book II)

cpaspr
March 8, 2007, 06:03 PM
Is this NC story a replacement for the nerve gas story? That's where he first met Ling, IIRC.

As I said, I'm a bit confused. Loving the story(ies), mind you. Just a bit confused is all.

__________________


And . . . welcome back, Lorenzo.

Mandirigma
March 8, 2007, 06:14 PM
Next chapter up on Monday.

I'll have it up in a couple of days.

You just gotta love storytellers that break thier own posted deadlines, heh.


Lorenzo and Carl are back Yippee!


cpaspr: Yeah, think of it as the new and improved version :) :)

Correia
March 8, 2007, 06:30 PM
cpaspr, I'll try to answer. NC wrote the original story, kind of as a joke, and people really liked it.

So then he wrote book II, and that's when I jumped in with him. People liked number II. Which was a surprise since we made it up as we went along. :)

So we decided to collaborate and do a III. But in order to do it justice, NC wanted to go back and rewrite book I, so it would have more continuity, and also because he had a different direction he wanted to take it in.

So now you're reading the revamped director's cut of book I. Anything I plug into this thread happened before NC's character did anything. (my guys are older).

Next we're going to clean up II, and then we'll be posting III.

My gosh, it is more complicated than Star Wars.

Mandirigma
March 8, 2007, 06:58 PM
>Which was a surprise since we made it up as we went along<


I don't know why it was that much of a surprise. It had a lot of pull to it. A lot better than many of the bound books I've paid for anywhere.

I got more excited waiting on the next chapter to "Welcome back Mr. Nightcrawler." then I did for any of the stuff I've read recently.

I remember that it took me until about half way through the first post to realize that I was reading a story. It just grew from there.

I really *did* have to buy a new keyboard, and wipe off my monitor once. (I learned to turn my head the other times) The humor as just in an unexpected place and caught me off guard. I even got my roommate into reading the thread when she asked me "What you laughing at?"

The story had it all, humor, guns, action, badguys, a love interest, flashbacks. Two main characters, two different writing styles. I think the writing it by the seat of your pants eevn helped with the draw to it.

Nightcrawler
March 8, 2007, 07:08 PM
I even got my roommate into reading the thread when she asked me "What you laughing at?"

Well? What were you laughing at? :D

EDIT: Yes, this replaces the original "So There I Was Again" story. That was just...campy fun, really. I tried to go over it, to make it mesh with the more serious tones of the "Welcome Back" story, and it just wasn't working. Especially since, despite the fact that I'd done no writing in between, my writing style had (inexplicably) improved quite a bit in the intervening two years. So, I started from scratch.

There's still humor there. You just have to have been a college student to appreciate most of it. Though, Valentine's armor not fitting anymore was, I personally think, hilarious. :D

cpaspr
March 8, 2007, 08:57 PM
Heck. I gained 17 pounds between the 18th of September and Thanksgiving my freshman year. 17 pounds in 2 months! Never mind in the whole freshman year.

But then I ate like a pig at Thanksgiving and actually lost 5 pounds. Less starch I guess. Changed my eating habits from all-you-can-eat to a light breakfast and a light dinner and held steady for the next 5 years. But, oh, to be that light again - sigh. Or even 15# over that - sigh again.

________________

But yeah, that freshman 15 reference was funny! At my college you could always tell which girls were freshman class when the sun came out and they all tried to get a tan. The sophomores and up had learned how to eat to keep their weights steady, but not the fresh. . .uh, freshwomen.

Brian Williams
March 8, 2007, 09:06 PM
:D
I just wish one of these guys liked a S&W K frame, but since there is a S&W 44mag in here, I can't complain too much.

bamawrx
March 8, 2007, 09:59 PM
BOOKMARK

fiVe
March 8, 2007, 10:30 PM
Correia!!

This thread just went from major most excellent to especially major most excellent!


More please!

DRZinn
March 9, 2007, 02:04 AM
Correia, I just thought of another exclamation that works (although it's probably also a Brazilianism) - "Puta que pariu" means "the whore who gave birth" and is used the same as other exclamations. "Filho da puta" sounds a little strange now that you've put it in there. There's also "caralho," which is technically a slang term for penis but when used as an exclamation has no such meaning. That's probably the most common in Brazil.

I've asked a PHd in portuguese, and I'll let you know.

Mandirigma
March 9, 2007, 08:19 AM
Well? What were you laughing at? :D

This! It was at this point that Dr Pepper, through the nose and into the keyboard rendered it impossible to use.

Two rapid shots went into his chest, and...the hell? I was at slide lock! As I ducked back behind the door frame, Jeff put two more rounds into the assassin and he fell to the floor.

Dropping the magazine out of my weapon, I reached to my belt with my right hand and pulled out a replacement. I had to consciously stop myself from following through on the muscle-memory motion of reloading the pistol, and examined my spare magazine.

It was stainless steel, with a thick plastic baseplate. Holding it up, I looked over at Jeff.

"WHAT THE HELL IS THIS?"

"It's a ten round mag, bro!" He shouted at me, a wide toothy grin splitting his face. "Where do you think you are, man? This is Cali!" Oh, I could've gone into a long tirade about he absurdity of a man like him, with so many ties to the underworld, who had no bones about illegally carrying a pistol, bothering to adhere to California's silly magazine capacity ban, but I thought it more prudent to finish reloading and worry about the gunfight. He and I were going to have a discussion later, though.


I ended up using that as an excuse to get a keyboard with glowing letters (easier to see while gaming in the dark)

As a side note. I did get the Dr. Pepper out of the old keyboard and have hooked it up to my laptop. Sugar ants cleaned it out for me. No joke. Let the things get into it for a two days then sprayed the entry point they were using. While not good as new it still works decently

hacksaw
March 9, 2007, 11:45 AM
Far be it from me to be whiny impatient pain in the posterior...:rolleyes:

but...isnt it ABOUT TIME FOR ANOTHER CHAPTER!!???


OR 4????

PRETTY PLEASE!!!!!!

Dont make me beg again......pretty please

atomicferret
March 9, 2007, 01:01 PM
I am not the best at translating vulgarity...don't use it myself, but I know a few words that brazilians are fond of using. I'll be happy to help out if i can...

Correia
March 9, 2007, 01:10 PM
AtomicFerret, you may not use profanity now, but you're working in the gun business with PvtPyle. Give it some time...

:D

Joe7cri
March 9, 2007, 02:51 PM
Hey Guys, Great stuff as usual.

Brian Dale
March 9, 2007, 03:04 PM
'Crawler, I've been writing this as I've read the thread:

Well, Hoss, I waited a week from the time that I saw your thread appear until I finally opened it and began to read. Why?

For your first two forays into installment fiction, it seemed that I was checking the thread at almost every new post: I'd then read another member writing, "Wow, NC, this is Great!!!"

...true, but I wanted Another Chapter, Dammit!

You know, I'm a bit surprised. I'm not getting nearly the amount of feedback my last two stories did.

We've all been getting the popcorn and the comfy chairs, PMing our friends and clearing the decks...
I hope it's not because this is perceived to be of lower quality than the othersFat Chance. oneslowgun nailed it when he wrote,"We really like the work, we are just trying not to clutter it up."

Larry, nobody's forgotten your style and panache in the last one, either. Before I knew you'd show up in this thread, I wrote: {Now Shhh...everybody pretend to ignore Larry so he'll let us get our hands on Monster Hunter.} Then I read Post #91 and thought, Never mind that, Larry. Wheee!

Post #97: Oh, Yeah. Larry's still got it, too.

What do we want to read when we open up a Nightcrawler thread?

All together, now:“Okay kids,” I said at last. “It’s story time.” :D

Correia
March 9, 2007, 03:33 PM
Happy Bob, thanks.

Just to clear this up before I receive another fifty PMs asking about it, I was all set to self publish Monster Hunter International. I had spent the last year getting massive compliments from all of its readers, but rejection after rejection from agents and publishers, even while they told me that they personally loved it, but didn't think it was marketable, or that it was too long for a first timer, or that it didn't fit into a specific genre.

So the envelope was on the desk, ready to go to the self publisher, when I got contacted by a big-dog publisher. Yes, they contacted me. Thanks to a reader of the Welcome Back thread with contacts in the publishing industry, he read MHI, and passed it up the food chain, to some very important people in the book industry who thought it rocked.

So MHI skipped over the slush pile (where it had died without response the year before), passed through their first readers with enthusiastic endorsements, and is now sitting on the boss publisher's desk.

So now I'm waiting. This is my last ride on the rejection rodeo. If they pick it up, then MHI will have wide distribution. If not, then that envelope I mentioned goes back into the mail, and MHI is two months out from being available on Amazon.

I'll have more posted in this thread, either tonight or tomorrow.

Neocode
March 9, 2007, 05:43 PM
I just wanted to pop in, and say I am a new member. I found this site about a week ago, and found the Nightcrawler/Correia stories, and got very involved in them.

I had to join up, and I have to say, this appears to be an awesome forum and a great group of people here.

Keep up the good work guys, and Correia, I want to read Monster Hunter Intl so keep me posted on it's release!

Thanks!

Neocode

Brian Dale
March 9, 2007, 06:06 PM
Welcome to The High Road, Neocode! Got your seat belt on? 'Crawler & Correia are rolling again! :D

Brian Dale
March 9, 2007, 06:09 PM
:o doubletap.

DRZinn
March 9, 2007, 09:50 PM
I know a few words that brazilians are fond of using.Me, too, but our problem is we don't know which of them a Portuguese would use.

Nightcrawler
March 10, 2007, 04:45 AM
10: Consequences

It was just after noon by the time the van turned back into the NMU lower parking lot. Ling drove, and I was in the passenger’s seat. Austin had fallen back asleep in the rear.

“I guess this is it,” I said as Ling pulled to a stop.

“Will you consider my offer?” Ling asked, looking into my eyes.

“I will,” I said. “I can’t promise anything, but I’ll consider it.”

“That is all I ask,” she said. “Thank you for your assistance.”

“Thank you for your generous payment,” I said, tapping the briefcase between our two seats. I extended my hand, and Ling took it. I shook her hand gently and got out of the van. Briefcase in hand, I slid the side door open and shoved Austin on the shoulder. His snoring stopped abruptly as he was startled awake.

“Wake up sleepy-head! Put your shoes on, we’re at grandma’s!” I said lightly, smiling, as he drowsily stepped into the afternoon light, squinting. He hadn’t even woken up when we stopped at the storage unit to drop off my stuff. I slid the van’s door shut, then stepped back to the passenger’s side door. The window was down. I smiled at Ling. She gave me the slightest of smiles in return, then put the van in gear and drove off. I watched it until it was around the corner and out of sight.

“Here,” I said, handing Austin the briefcase. It was one of those fancy aluminum ones like you see in the movies.

“What’s this?”

“Your payment. Ten thousand, remember?” His eyes grew wide, and he started to unlatch it. I stopped him.

“Don’t open that out here! Geez. C’mon, let’s get inside. Becky’ll be happy to see you. Oh, and here’s your camera.” We made the long hike from the lower parking lot to Spanner Hall in silence. It was a peaceful Sunday afternoon, and the sun was shining. It was like everything that had happened in the last twenty-four hours had been a dream. I could tell that was what was going through Austin’s mind. He looked around, and then down to the briefcase in his hand, with an almost bewildered look on his face. I smiled to myself.

A few minutes later, we finished trudging up the steps to the third floor of Spanner Hall. We stopped in front of Austin’s room, and he started to unlock the door. Before he could finish, it opened. Rebecca looked rather frazzled as she let us in; I didn’t think she’d slept much. Poor thing must’ve been up all night worrying.

“So…um…how’d it go?” she asked after a long, awkward silence.

“It’s done,” I said flatly. “There’s your payment. Austin, I thank you again for your assistance.”

“Austin? Did you…I mean, did…”

“No, darlin’,” I interrupted, “he didn’t. He just helped us take care of the children. I did most of the shooting. Austin didn’t have a weapon.” Rebecca was visibly relieved. I think at that moment Austin understood the real reason I hadn’t armed him.

“They were just kids,” Austin said slowly. “The oldest was fifteen, Becca. Fifteen. We…we saved them.” Rebecca grabbed Austin and squeezed him so hard I thought his head would pop. I chuckled to myself.

“There’s your money, like we agreed,” I said, pointing to the case in Austin’s hand. “Remember, don’t put that all in the bank. No more than a few thousand, okay? Now…” I yawned. “****. I really need to get some sleep. Austin, it was nice working with you.” I grabbed his hand and firmly shook it. “See you guys in class tomorrow, okay?” I stepped out of Austin’s dorm room, slowly closing the door behind me.

“So what’s he like? Really like, I mean?” I heard Rebecca whisper to Austin just before I pulled the door shut. Almost smiling, I wearily plodded into my room. I un-holstered my revolver and slid it under my pillow. I feel asleep without even bothering to take my shoes off.

Nightcrawler
March 10, 2007, 04:46 AM
“HUDSON!” I screamed. He groaned in pain as a rifle bullet tore through the soft armor on the side of his vest, missing his protective hard armor plate, and plunged into his body. He staggered back and fell to the ground, blood pouring out of the wound.

“MAN DOWN!” I yelled into my radio. Trying my best to keep my FAL shouldered with only my left hand, I grabbed the drag strap on Hudson’s armor and began to pull him down the corridor. Another one of the gun runner’s men appeared, and I fired off four rounds before he could get a bead on me. I didn’t hit him, though, and…

“****!” Pain shot through my arm, causing me to drop Hudson. I nearly dropped my rifle as well, and looked down to see blood begin pouring out of my right forearm. The bullet hadn’t broken the bone, I didn’t think, and…CRUNCH! I wheezed as the wind was knocked out of me, and I stumbled to the floor. I looked back towards the huge steel shipping crates that the gun runner’s men were using for cover in time to see the man with the H&K G3 rifle appear again. Laying on my back, I took a bead on him and fired three times. He fell to the floor, dropping his rifle with a clatter.

“**** YOU!” I screamed at the man I’d just killed. ”I’M HIT!”

“You okay?” Jeff appeared behind me just then, from around the dog-leg in the corridor.

“Yeah, armor stopped it.” The ceramic Small Arms Protective Insert plates in my vest had saved my life, stopping the powerful 7.62mm bullet from tearing right through me.

“Your arm!”

“**** it! Help me up, we’ve gotta…****!” More shooters appeared, and Jeff and I fired on them again. He kept firing his HK33K carbine as I reloaded my FAL. My reload was slow and clumsy, and I nearly dropped the spare magazine. Blood continued to pour out of my arm. I hit the bolt release and fired off four more shots, again screaming obscenities at our adversaries. Jeff then helped me to my feet, and we each grabbed one of the shoulder’s of Hudson’s armor vest and dragged him around the corner, leaving a smear of his blood on the floor as we went.. Hawk leaned around the corner and provided cover fire with his own FAL carbine. Jeff pulled me to my feet and together, we succeeded in getting Hudson around the corner. Triana was waiting there, an MP5 hanging from a sling, with a first aid kit.

“Are the charges set?” Hawk asked.

“Yeah…Let’s get the **** out of here.” The mission had gone badly. The gun runner was dead. I had in my pocket the unique ring he’d worn on his finger, some ancient Roman relic that he’d paid an un-Godly sum of money for, to prove it. I’d left Hawk, Jeff, and Triana in the corridor to cover the main entrance to the place while Hudson and I set the charges. I had no idea a truckload of the gun runner’s men would enter the building from the other side.

“Hopper, he’s hurt bad!” Triana said, tearing Hudson’s body armor and equipment off. “I don’t know if I can stop the bleeding!”

“Do what you can!” I got on the radio again. “Corwin! We’re leaving! Get over to the north door and stand by!”

“Roger!” he replied. Corwin, still slowly recovering from his wound, was left to drive the van. He wasn’t really in any shape for that, either, but I couldn’t spare anyone else.

“We gotta go!” I yelled to Triana.

“I’m afraid to move him!” she said.

“If we don’t go, we’re all dead. Come on!” Jeff and Hawk lifted Hudson up and carried him down the corridor towards the door. His dark skin was losing color due to blood loss. I began to feel light headed myself as my arm continued to bleed. Triana led the way, weapon at the ready, while I lingered behind, covering our exit. A man appeared around the corner at a full run, AKM rifle in hand. I was on him before he could bring his weapon to bear. My FAL barked deafeningly in the narrow corridor, and the bullet tore through his right side, exiting out the left. He flopped to the floor and didn’t get back up.

“I’m at the north door!” Corwin said over the radio. “Where are you?” Just then, Triana shoved the double doors open, ran the short distance to the van, and opened its back doors. I made my way backwards down the corridor as Jeff and Hawk loaded Hudson into the van as quickly as they could. As soon as this was done, I turned around and began to run towards the end of the corridor. I was quickly losing blood, and the doors seemed a lot farther away than I remembered them being. I plodded on. As I came to the doors, I saw Jeff, almost in slow motion, yell something at me.

“GET DOWN!” It took me a second to react, but I dove to the floor. Jeff brought his carbine up and fired off a long burst in full auto, right over my head. Hawk fired off a few rounds as well, his Paratrooper FAL barking loudly in the corridor. Still laying on the floor, I turned and looked behind me. Two more armed men had come around the corner, and both were now dead. I tried to push myself up, but pain shot through my arm and I collapsed back to the floor. Jeff and Hawk ran to me, grabbed me by the armor, and hoisted to my feet. They practically threw me in the van, and Hawk yelled at Corwin to go before we even had the rear doors closed.

“Hopper!” Hawk yelled at me. “The demo! Fire the demo!” His voice sounded distant, but I heard him. I pulled the large radio initiator out of a pouch on my vest and extended the antenna. I flipped the safely lever out of the way.

“Fire in the hole.”

I squeezed the clacker. Half an instant later, the ammonium nitrate fuel-oil bomb we’d left in the warehouse detonated. The roof the building erupted into a huge fireball, and secondary explosions and fires began as vast quantities of stored munitions began to cook off and ignite.

I exhaled heavily, and sat against the side of the van, clutching my right arm with my left. My rifle was laying in my lap, still slung to me, and my sleeve and pant leg were covered in blood from my wound. I watched in a daze as Triana, Jeff, and Hawk tried to save Hudson’s life. He reached up, clutched Triana’s arm, then went limp. He was gone..

“No!” she said, and began to perform CPR. She continued for almost a minute before Hawk stopped her. He looked at her and gently shook his head. Triana slumped back, resting against the wall, as Hawk gently closed Hudson’s eyes.

****, I thought, banging my head against the wall. It’d been our first mission with me in command, and I’d lost a man. Hudson was dead, and it was my fault.

“Let’s get that arm patched up, kid,” Hawk said, appearing in front of me. It was the last thing I heard before falling unconscious.

Nightcrawler
March 10, 2007, 04:50 AM
I startled awake. Quickly looking around, it took me a second to verify that I was in my dorm room, not bleeding in the back of a van in French Guiana. ****. It’d been almost two years and I was still having nightmares. I sat up and rubbed my eyes. My clock said it was just after nine, and it was dark in my room.

I was startled again when my cell phone started to ring. I picked it up and looked at the display; I didn’t recognize the number.

“Hello?”

“Michael! It’s Ling. Listen to me very carefully. You’ve got to get out of there right now. They’re coming for you. Do you understand?”

“What? Wait a second, who…”

“Michael there’s no time!” Ling sounded worried, but calm. “You’re in the dormitory at the university, correct? They’re coming for you. They tracked you back there. They…”

“Wait wait wait…how the hell do you know someone’s coming? I…”

“There’s no time. Get ready and meet us in the parking lot. We’ll be there in a few minutes. Be careful!”

“Okay, okay, I’ll meet you in the parking lot.” I hung up. Christ, I thought. She’d better be right about this. Getting out of bed, I retrieved my revolver from under my pillow and holstered it. I turned on the light, and grabbed a backpack that was sitting on the floor in my closet. The backpack was my bug-out kit. It had everything I needed in it, from money to alternate identification. I slipped my laptop into the pack and set it aside. I went back to my closet and found a small lock box that was on the floor in the corner. Entering the combination, I opened it, and retrieved my Colt Government Model pistol and my S&W snubby revolver. I dropped the Colt, which was still in its holster, into my backpack. I stuffed the snubby into my right pants pocket.

I took one last look into the backpack to ensure everything was there. Satisfied, I zipped it up and stood up. I put my jacket on, then shouldered the backpack. I took one last look around my dorm room, then headed for the door. Before my hand reached the knob, someone started to pound harshly on the door.

“POLICE! Open up!” a voice said, muffled through the door. Cops? ****. It was odd, though. The voice had a strange accent that I couldn’t quite place, and…oh, hell… I dodged to the right just in time. Chunks flew off of my blue wooden door as bullets came ripping through it. I crouched on the floor by my dresser and waited. I counted fifteen or sixteen shots before the firing stopped. I stood up just in time to see my assailant kick the door in. Unfortunately for him, I was ninety degrees to his left as he stepped into my room. By the time he saw me it was too late.

The gunman’s head almost exploded as I shot him in the face with a .44 Magnum jacketed hollow point. Blood splattered on the bathroom door behind him as his body collapsed to the floor. He was no cop; the man was dressed in black, wearing a ski mask. He dropped a Walther P99 as he fell; I left it on the floor and leaned out into the hallway to see what was going on. The noise from my gun, fired in my little twelve-by-twelve room, was deafening, and my ears were ringing.

I peeked left; nothing. I peeked right just in time to see another gunman exit the stairwell, about thirty meters away. He saw me at the same time, but I had my gun up first. The powerful .44 bucked in my hand as I snapped off a shot; the gunman had dodged back into the stairwell just in time, and the bullet blew a chunk off of the door frame. I waited for a split second, and he peeked out again. I fired another round, but missed again. The bullet hit the stairwell door.

The gunman then stuck his gun around the corner and, without looking, began to fire randomly down the hallway. I ducked back into my room as shot after shot struck the wall, floor, and ceiling around me. I hoped to hell his stray rounds wouldn’t go through anybody’s door. The firing ceased; I leaned around the corner again just in time to see the man step out of the stairwell, gun held straight out in both hands. I fired before he did. The bullet struck him in the guts and he doubled over, falling to his knees. I put another round into his chest, and he flopped to the floor, dead.

A door burst open behind me. I turned around just in time to see two more shooters exit the stairwell. The first was also armed with a pistol; he fired off two shots. His shots went wide as I practically let myself fall to my right knee, bringing my gun up as I did so. Before the gunman could reacquire me, my .44 roared again, striking him in the chest. The bullet exited out of his back and shattered the window at the end of the hall in a spray of blood. The second shooter jumped back into the stairwell as my bullets hit his compatriot; the one I’d shot fell onto his back, dropping his pistol with a clatter, and didn’t get up again.

The second shooter appeared again, some kind of short-barreled shotgun in hand. I rolled to the left, back into my dorm room, just in time to avoid catching a load of buckshot. I landed on top of the first gunman’s body, blood and brains staining my clothes, and rolled onto my back. My right hand flew into my pants pocket, grasping the grip of the little .38. The snubby cleared my pocket just as the shotgun-weilding assassin appeared in my doorway. I fired two shots from hip level; the bullets hit the man in the stomach, and he stumbled back, dropping his shotgun. As he stumbled backwards, I extended my arm, drawing a bead, and shot him between the eyes. His body slumped against the wall across the hall from my door.

I finally had a second to breathe and reload. I stuffed the snubby back into my pocket and got up. Leaning back into the hallway, I scanned both sides of the corridor. As I did so, I saw students opening their doors and peeking out into the hallway.

“GET BACK IN YOUR ROOMS!” I screamed, ears still ringing. A few students just looked at me wide-eyed. God damn it. I stepped out into the hallway, holding up the three-inch .44 in my hand. “DO YOU SEE THE ****ING BODIES ON THE FLOOR? GET THE **** BACK IN YOUR ROOMS AND LOCK YOUR ****ING DOORS!” With that, the last of the wide-eyed spectators complied with my shouted command, and the few open doors slammed shut. It was time to go. The cops would be there any minute. I hit the cylinder release on my revolver, and pushed the cylinder out with my right thumb. Grasping the gun through the frame, I ejected the empties and reached to my left hip, where I had a pouch with a spare speedloader. As the empties hit the floor, I realized that there was someone behind me.

“STOP!” the man screamed. I turned my head slightly and saw him pointing an MP5 at me.

“Put your ****ing hands up! Drop the six-shooter! NOW!” There really isn’t much you can do when you’ve got an automatic weapon pointed at the back of your head. I closed my eyes and took a deep breath. Dropping my revolver, I slowly raised my hands over my head, mind racing. On the plus side, he was taking me prisoner, and I still had my snubby in my pocket. I had a chance. On the minus side, one of his friends could show up at any second, and I’d be pretty much screwed. I decided to act; if these guys captured me, eventually they’d be able to extract everything I knew about EXODUS, and then they’d kill me. **** that.

Keeping my hands in the air, heart pounding above the ringing in my ears, I slowly turned around to face the gunman. Like the others, he was dressed in black and wore a ski mask. He held the submachine gun on me as he spoke into his radio.

“I’ve got him. The others are down. Get up here. Now.” He took a couple steps towards me, and my heart rate slowed. The calm overtook me, and the fact that I thought I was about to die bothered me less. Sooner or later, this guy would have to put his hands on me. When he did, I’d pull the snubby from my pocket and use the last two rounds to kill him. I’d likely be shot by one of his friends a second later, but I wasn’t going to let them take me alive.

In the instant that these thoughts were racing through my mind, I noticed a door behind the gunman slowly open, without making a sound (at least not one that I could hear after all the gunfire).

Oh no. Austin, no… I kept my eyes focused on the gunman as Austin stepped out of his dorm room. At the last instant, I shifted my eyes over to him. Seeing this, the gunman went to turn around, but it was too late.

The bat struck him squarely between the shoulder blades. It was one of those short aluminum ones they use for T-ball. The gunman lurched forward, almost losing his footing, and dropped his weapon with a grunt. As the little submachine gun clattered to the floor, the gunman stepped forward and tried to draw a pistol from his belt. I couldn’t move fast enough to intervene. His gun cleared its holster, and the gunman tried to turn around. He wasn’t fast enough. Austin’s bat struck him in the side of the head with a sickening ding! The gunman inadvertently fired his pistol as he was struck, but the bullet went into the floor. Austin swung again, this time hitting the other side of the man’s head. The shooter went down as my friend raised the bat yet again. Austin viciously clubbed the man in the abdomen, twice, before I could get to him.

“Austin! AUSTIN! HEY!” Austin’s eyes snapped up, focusing on me. He looked like he was in shock. “HEY! I think you got ‘im. Austin? You with me?”

“Y…yeah…yeah…” he said, his intense gaze softening. I slapped him roughly on the shoulder, turned around, and picked up my .44. I twisted the speedloader into the cylinder and snapped it shut. Holstering the revolver, I picked up the gunman’s MP5 and pulled the charging handle back slightly to make sure he’d had a round chambered. I then reached down and pulled the two spare magazines from the gunman’s jacket and stuffed them into my right back pocket. Suddenly Becky appeared behind Austin, grabbing him by the arm. She looked down at the gunman, whom I was pretty sure was dead, and then over at me. I stayed focused on Austin.

“Thank you,” I said. “You saved my life. I gotta go now.”

“What?” he asked, still half in shock.

“Yeah. There are more of these guys. Get back in your room and lock the door. Call the cops. Just tell ‘em what happened. Tell ‘em you think I shot these guys, but didn’t know I had a gun in my room. Oh, and hide that ten grand. They probably won’t search your room.”

“Wait…where are you going?”

“There’s no time. I’ve got to get out of here. This is all my fault. They came for me. You guys are in danger…look, just go, alright? I’m sorry.”

“Are you leaving?” Becky asked.

“Yeah. You probably won’t see me again. Thanks for everything.”

“Just like that?” he asked.

“Yeah, bro, just like that. Sucks, don’t it? Austin, you marry this girl.” I shook Austin’s hand and gave Becky a hug. Stepping back, I smiled at my friends one last time, and turned for the stairwell. I didn’t look back. As I started down the stairs, I heard someone running up the other way. Switching the weapon to my right shoulder, I leaned over the railing and waited. I had to be careful; I didn’t want to shoot the wrong person.

A second later, I saw the man coming up the stairs. He was carrying a Kalashnikov and was wearing a ski mask. Probably not a cop. He saw me just as he hit the second floor landing and raised his weapon. I fired off a long burst, but he jumped back out of sight. A second later I was the one who jumped back as he opened up at me with his assault rifle. The chatter of the AK was deafening in the narrow stairwell, and pieces of cinder block and plaster flew through the air as the rounds stitched up the wall and ceiling. There was a brief pause, then rounds began to rip through the stairs I was standing on. I tumbled to the landing between the second and third floors as half a magazine’s worth of rifle rounds ripped up the staircase.

Somehow, I made it to the landing without dropping my weapon or being shot. The gunman stopped firing; his magazine was empty. I rolled and twisted to my left, bringing the MP5 to bear on him. Firing through the railing, down towards the lower landing, I emptied the rest of the magazine into the masked shooter. Gunfire tore up his body from his stomach to his throat as I put at least fifteen rounds into him. His ventilated body slumped against the wall and slid to the floor; blood was splattered everywhere.

Pushing myself to my feet, I felt a throbbing pain in my right ankle. Limping down the stairs, I guessed that I’d twisted it. I pulled the charging handle back, ejecting a round, and locked it open. I then removed the magazine, and replaced it with a fresh one from my pocket. I slapped the charging handle down, chambering a fresh round, and continued to limp down the stairs, weapon at the ready.

On the first floor, I peeked out into the lobby and saw no one but terrified looking students. Taking a gamble, I dropped the subgun and the spare magazine, and stepped into the lobby.

“Mike, what’s going on?” someone hissed from behind the front desk. She peeked over it a second later.

“I think they’re terrorists. Are you okay?”

“Yeah. Where are the police? I called them already! I heard gunfire from the stairs. Did you see anything? What’s going on?”

“Just stay there. I’ll go check it out.” I took a right and hobbled down the hall. Not seeing any more gunmen, I made my way through the TV room and out the back door. I stepped into the cold night air, into the parking lot, as police sirens wailed from the other side of the building.

Taking a deep breath, I allowed myself one last look at Spanner Hall. As I turned to limp down to the lower parking lot, I realized that I was turning my back in my life as well. Decker had always told us that you can’t get settled, can’t get comfortable, not in this business. That something could happen at any time, and you always had to be ready to bounce. He said that you had to be ready to drop your life and walk away without a second thought.

I felt tears welling up in my eyes. At the time, I didn’t know why.

Nightcrawler
March 10, 2007, 04:51 AM
Next chapter might take awhile. I haven't finished writing it yet. :)

Brian Dale
March 10, 2007, 06:55 AM
It'll be worth the wait. :cool:

*****************

On Portuguese:

I know a few words that Brazilians are fond of using.

Me, too, but our problem is we don't know which of them a Portuguese would use.Not only that, but if the Sergeant is at least in his mid-twenties at the time of the story, he might have been born someplace like Mozambique or Angola. :evil:

The Viking
March 10, 2007, 08:03 AM
This is awesome. :evil:

NukemJim
March 10, 2007, 10:04 AM
NC your writing has definetly improved over the last time. It was very good then, it is excellent ( so far :neener: don't get a swollen head ) now.

Thank you

NukemJim

Rey B
March 10, 2007, 11:49 AM
As I told the semi driver, that totaled my S-10, when I climbed out "Wahoo what a hell of a ride" This is better than your early stuff and I really enjoyed the early stuff. Keep on with it man!

ilcylic
March 10, 2007, 12:52 PM
I'd like to thank icylic, Dr. Rob, and springmom for helping with the project, proofreading, technical assistance, etc.

Hey, being a giant flaming crypto nerd has to be good for something besides picking up chicks, right? :)

(And a good thing, too, 'cause it's lousy for picking up chicks. "Hey baby, I factor the products of large prime numbers...")

--------

Edited to add: Y'know, an hour ago I was going to get up from my desk and go, like, do stuff. Outside, I mean. In the big room. But noooooOOOOOoo. Instead I say here and read this entire thread. Feh. Darn you NC! Darn you to heck for being so entertaining!

Glock22
March 10, 2007, 03:10 PM
As always, amazing.

Khornet
March 10, 2007, 03:11 PM
I check this forum every day just to see whether you are back. Haven't made any comments because everyone else has already said it.

However: no one has pointed out the fact that your grammar, spelling, and punctuation are almost always correct. You have no idea how refreshing that is. The WaPo and the NYT don't write English as correctly as you.

Beware of the apostrophe: don't use it to pluralize, as in ninja's. That means "object belonging to the ninja", not several ninjas.

If I were proofreading your book I would have little to do. Well done.

Geegolly
March 10, 2007, 04:26 PM
wow

Mandirigma
March 10, 2007, 07:05 PM
>I haven't finished writing it yet.<


Here we go again....



Actually added this to subscribe to thread. (Sorry guys who have it on instant notification...


/rolls dice, "come on baby, gimme a new content post"

Damn, crapped out, just user comments)

Brian Dale
March 10, 2007, 07:13 PM
You can also subscribe to a thread by clicking the box marked "Thread Tools" near the top of each page.

It'll give you a drop-down menu, you'll go *clickity* on "Subscribe to this thread" and you're all set. :)

Joe7cri
March 10, 2007, 08:35 PM
NC, great job on the details, I thought I caught you on something but when I went back to find out where you got the extra Mags, I saw that you mentioned that you took it off the dead guy. Excellent Job!

Cowgunner
March 10, 2007, 10:18 PM
Get job NC, I am completely addicted to this story.

BIGDADDYLONGSTROKE
March 11, 2007, 12:22 AM
ok, there is only so much popcorn I can go through while waiting for the next edition.:D

Arkie
March 11, 2007, 09:54 AM
It just keeps getting better and better!!!

I can't wait for more!!!

Way to go Nightcrawler. :D

Mac Attack
March 11, 2007, 11:23 AM
OMG how could I have missed this the first time it went to print!

Looks like I have a lot of catching up to do!:D

darkknight
March 12, 2007, 05:02 AM
the chapters done right. or at least i hope so.

cpaspr
March 12, 2007, 07:51 PM
To catch up, give yourself about 4-5 good hours to get all the previous stories. And plan on being well entertained. It's time very well spent. :)

Of course, then you get to wait for the next installment like the rest of us, but we've learned to be very patient. Definitely worth the wait. :D

Nightcrawler
March 12, 2007, 08:14 PM
I appreciate everyone bearing with me. I was planning on getting some writing done today, but ended up having to take someone to the hospital instead.

I still have errands to run, plus I need to take a nap before work tonight, so... sorry guys, it might take awhile. :(

cpaspr
March 12, 2007, 08:23 PM
We'll wait.

Patiently.

Really.

Really, patiently.




Yeah - Right !!!:D

Correia
March 13, 2007, 03:05 AM
Sweothi City, Central African Republic.

December 15th, 1993.

2:35 PM

“We need to kill that technical!” Carl shouted into my ear as the walls exploded around us from heavy machinegun fire. Whoever was manning that DhSK was just working it back and forth across the houses. They didn’t know which house we were hiding in, or we would already be dead.

“Ya think?” I screamed back.

This was the third home we had leapfrogged into after the shotgun massacre. The area was covered in rebels now, shooting at anybody who didn’t look like they were from around these parts. Carl and I sure didn’t look like locals.

“You gonna use that thing--” he gestured at the end of the RPG launcher sticking above my shoulder like a psychotic blunderbuss. “Or just carry it around all day?”

I flipped him the bird, and pulled the heavy tube around in front of me. “Head for the alley so the back blast don’t kill you.”

He nodded once, rolled over, and low crawled for the back door. I knew once I opened that front door, I would have a clean shot at the intersection, but every scumbag in a three block radius was going to zero right in on us. I wouldn’t have much time.

I made sure the rocket was fully seated, the hammer cocked on the launcher, and push button safety deactivated. This was it. I stood, risked a quick peek through one of the approximately fifty caliber holes through the wall, and spotted that damn little Toyota, parked in the middle of the road about ninety meters away. The tube settled heavy on my shoulder.

The plywood door flew open with a bang, powered by my boot and a whole lot of adrenalin. I centered the front sight through the lowest aperture, focused on it, with the Toyota a blur behind.

But then something caught my attention. I don’t know if it was the rumble of the heavy engines, or the crunching of debris under its tires. The RPG dipped slightly as I turned toward the lumbering thing coming from the direction, that sure enough, Carl had predicted the Cubans would use.

“BTR!” I screamed, as I pivoted toward the massive soviet armored personnel carrier. It was all angles and armor, ugly, and swarming with Cubans. I aimed the RPG at the new, deadlier threat, and yanked the trigger. The tube boomed against my face and years of dust billowed from every surface inside the tiny African home. It was deafening and awe inspiring.

The front of the BTR seemed to shiver for a brief instant before the grey steel tub belched flames in every direction. Several quick, massive blasts shuddered through the hulk, and I could see figures tossed, wind-milling, and spinning through the air.

I had not seen the second BTR enter the intersection. But it had seen me. Its cannon swiveled toward me. I turned and dove back into the house.

Suddenly the world was white. Brilliant flashing white. Up was down, and the ground was somehow now far below. It came up to meet me, very quickly.

Then nothing.

2:37 PM

####

Bob looked grim when he walked out of the hospital room and into the hallway. His eyes were red, puffy from crying, and at that moment he looked aged far beyond his seventeen years. My heart broke when I saw him, because Bob was our rock.

“Mom’s on her way,” I said quickly. She had been hysterical on the phone.

My older brother put one massive hand on my shoulder, using me to steady himself on wobbly legs. He towered over me, intimidating in his size and mass, though he never meant to be. “Dad wants to talk to you,” he croaked. Bob then let go of me, and seemed to melt, as he slid down into one of the Spartan waiting room chairs. “You better hurry.” He put his head down and started to sob.

Several members of the hospital staff were clustered nearby, watching us. It was a small town, and everybody knew my foster father. They were all stunned by the senseless act of violence that had ripped our little community. I gathered up my courage, and headed for the door.

There was only one bed in the room. A bank of archaic instruments were beeping and clicking behind it. Doctor Smith nodded at me, placed his clipboard down on a small table, and silently left the room. The doctors had done everything they could, but the thugs that had attacked my father had been thorough. If Gideon Lorenzo lived it would be a miracle. Tubes and mysterious bags descended from the ceiling. Through the tangle, I could make out my father.

“Dad?”

“Hector…” he wheezed. His bandaged head tilted slightly in acknowledgement.

I moved to his side. He looked bad, with great dark circles around eyes so laced with blood that I couldn’t help but blink in sympathy. Always an amazingly strong man, it was shocking to see him in this state. I felt like someone had punched me in the throat. He was a good man, an honorable man. The idea of him being mortal had never entered my mind.

“I’ve got to tell you something…”

I waited, hot tears streaming down my face. This was the man that had taken me off of the streets. This was the judge that sent the miserable wretch that had been my real father to prison. The Lorenzos had taken me in, welcomed me into their happy home, let me know what real family, and loyalty was like. And now he was dieing.

“What, Dad?”

“I’m worried about you...” His voice was barely a whisper. “I see things... in your future. Bad things.” I wiped my running nose on the back of my hand, and leaned in close. His red eyes were open wide, staring right through me. “You have a streak in you. You’re good, but you have... evil inside. Don’t let it out. Please, whatever you do, don’t let it out.”

“I won’t.”

I flinched involuntarily as his hand clamped onto my arm, suddenly strong.

“Don’t avenge me. Leave it to the law, boy,” he hissed. “Don’t let the evil out...”

Then he was gone.

I stumbled back, crashing hard into the wall, instruments scattering across the floor, the strength gone from my legs. The machines began to scream and nurses rushed into the room. The wall was hard against my back, and the floor was cold beneath my legs. Bob was a hulking shadow in the doorway. A doctor began to pump his hands up and down on my father’s chest. I heard a wailing as Mom arrived, her hands pressed to her mouth, but the noise still coming through. I wanted to move to help her, but my body wouldn’t respond. Her scream was the word no, over and over.

My ears were ringing.

####

2:38 PM

My ears were ringing.

Where am I?

“Lorenzo! Come on!” Someone slapped me in the face. Hard. “Move damn it!”

I woke up, and everything hurt. I was laying on my back, at an awkward angle, the Ithaca under me, stabbing me in the kidneys. It was hard to breath and the air was choked with dust and smoke. I raised my shaking hands in front of my face and saw that they were covered in blood, and I had no idea if it was mine.

“What the hell was that?” I blurted, sitting up, and feeling something grate unnaturally in my chest.

“The Cubans are dropping mortar rounds right ahead of their advance.”

“They can do that?” I quavered as Carl pulled me up.

“Apparently. Good thing they missed. Can you move?”

“I think so.” Pain was shooting through me, but everything seemed to be connected. The house that I had been hiding in was... gone. “That was a ******* miss?”

The area was now overlayed in swirling dust and smoke from the burning BTR. That mortar round had raised a mess. I could see flashes of movement through the fog, but I was lucky to see ten feet. This was our chance. We had accomplished our mission, and gotten the Cubans to abandon their post. “Carl, head for where the technical was. Let’s hitch a ride.”

“Good idea,” he coughed as he inhaled a lung full of particulate. He pulled a black bandana out of his pocket and quickly tied it around his face like some bandito. Nice. I started toward where I thought the intersection was. Carl grabbed me by the shoulder, turned me 180 degrees, and shoved. I had really gotten turned around.

It hurt to move. It hurt more to breath. I was confused and disoriented, but I would be damned if I was going to die in this forsaken hell-hole. I hefted the shotgun and ran through the rubble and over the occasional body. This dust screen was going to settle fast.

It was like something out of a nightmare. Shapes appeared, and faded away through the haze. I slashed my leg open on a protruding piece of jagged rebar, scattering red droplets that disappeared into the ground like it was covered in sawdust, but couldn’t even think of slowing down. A rebel materialized in front of me, and I shot him through the heart with the 12 gauge with out even thinking. More men were moving to the side, and I fired at them as I sprinted past until the firing pin landed on an empty chamber.

Then we were out of the cloud, but we were in the open, running down the middle of a dirt street. My eyes gritted in their sockets, locking onto the technical, now only twenty meters away. A rebel was charging straight at me, a machete held high overhead, spittle flying from his lips. He was screaming something.

I tossed him the Ithaca. He caught it, looked at it in surprise, and then I crashed into him with my shoulder, bowling both of us to the ground. My combat knife was already coming out of the sheath as we hit. He screamed as I drove it between his ribs, but he still struggled to bring the machete into play.

Carl stepped past me, Aug shouldered, and opened fire on the Toyota. There were two men in the back, and both of them shook as the angry Portagee put bullets into them. The driver’s window shattered as Carl shifted targets.

The rebel and I rolled across the ground, locked in a dance to the death. I blocked the machete with my forearm. It cut deep, but he didn’t have the room to swing it. I pulled the knife out, and slammed it in again, and again, and again. Finally, he quit moving.

“Lorenzo, quit screwing around!” Carl shouted, as he scanned the wall of dust and flames. “We’ve got to go.”

I rose, panting, and sheathed the still bloody knife. Angry bullets whined past my head as more rebels saw us. “I’ll drive.”

“No, I drive. Nobody can catch me.” Carl answered as he opened the Toyota’s door, grabbed the dead driver, and hurled him out. “Get on that gun!”

I vaulted over the side of the pickup bed, landing on a pile of hot 12.7 brass. Carl revved the engine. Then the wall smoke opened, and a great screaming beast roared through, muzzle flashes erupting from its machinegun.

“BTR!” I screamed as the APC rolled over a knot of rebels. But Carl was fast. He slammed the Toyota into gear and put pedal to metal. I slipped on the brass, and bounced off the truck bed walls as Carl cranked the wheel and took us through the debris. I looked up in time to see an unlucky rebel bounce off the front fender and fly through a scrap-wood shanty.

Bullets puckered through our Technical as we tore down the street and right through the militia. The remaining windows shattered. Carl bellowed in rage and pain as something hit him. I crawled up to the DhSK, but it was empty, with the feed tray cover locked open. I yanked the Browning 9mm from my holster and fired at the rebels one handed, the other holding onto the rollbar to keep from being tossed out.

We seemed to be going unbelievably fast.

The BTR was right behind us. For being so big, damn that thing was quick.

“Get on that gun or we’re gonna die!” Carl yelled, as he cranked the wheel, and we took a corner far too fast.

THOOM

The 37mm cannon round flew past and most of the marketplace disappeared. The shockwave rocked the little technical onto two wheels, and then back. I spotted a big, green, ammo-can, and opened it. There were the huge 12.7 rounds, linked in a rusty, metal belt. I hoisted it out, put the belt in place, slammed the cover down, and yanked back on the charging handle.

I swiveled the DhSK around, but the BTR hadn’t followed us around the corner.

But there were plenty of other targets.

I opened fire on random MLC rebels as we drove by. The muzzle blast from the big Russian was like a mushroom cloud. The recoil shook the Toyota down to its suspension. Carl took another corner, trying to head south, out of the city, but the streets were a maze.

Suddenly the brakes locked up, and we slid to a halt. I had the gun trained to the rear, and craned my neck around to see what the problem was.

The road was on fire.

For a good thirty feet, the road was nothing but a blazing oil slick, with flames taller than I was. This had been the source of the great pillar of smoke that we had homed in on to get to the marketplace. It must have been some sort of gas station before the rebels had blown it up. There was no other way past.

I turned back. The way we came from was swarming with rebels, looking like ants. A bullet sparked off the Toyota’s tailgate. Ants with AK47s.

The tail lights lit up, signaling that we were in reverse. Another bullet smashed one of the lights. We started back toward the pile of rebels.

“Carl? What are you doing?” The only remaining taillight shattered. Another round cut a chunk out of my ear.

“We need a running start.”

“You’ve got to be kidding me...” I laid on the DhSK like it was the hammer of Thor, sweeping it across the street. It ain’t pretty what one of these things does to a human being. I held the trigger down, the concussion so deep that I could feel it vibrating the jelly in my eyes.

Carl stopped, ground the transmission, and floored it.

I dropped down, threw my arms over my head, and tried to think happy thoughts.

Fire. Everywhere. Holy ****.

It was hard to explain. I opened me eyes, and could see it, like it was a living thing, coming up over the edge of the truck, leering down at me, hungry and angry. The heat hit like a sledgehammer, evaporating all of the moisture out of my skin. I held my breath, but could feel the poison crowding up my nostrils. It wanted to eat me.

Then we were through.

I jumped back up. The DhSK’s wooden spade grips were on fire. I smothered them with my shirt. The Toyota’s paint was burning, the wind quickly beat it out.

Carl turned back around and looked at me through the shattered rear window, beady eyes gleaming through a layer of soot over his bandito mask, and said, “Hey, Lorenzo, your hair’s on fire.”

Well **** me. I rubbed it out.

This road seemed to lead to the edge of town. I could see down it, a straight shot, and in the distance was open country and room to run or hide. Carl shifted gears and we continued to accelerate.

Then I saw it.

The BTR was running parallel to us. It was one street over to the right, separated from us by a single row of mud houses and shacks. The grey hulk was going to intercept us. The Cubans inside opened up through their firing ports. Most of the rounds smashed into the buildings, but at each gap, some passed through. Tracers stabbed a dotted line across the road.

Two could play that game. I grabbed the smoking handles and swiveled the DhSK.

“Hey!”

“Yeah!”

“BTR on our right. Will 12.7 go through their armor?”

“Hell yeah! They’re light plate.”

I wasn’t going to try to time it between the houses. We were almost out of town, and I didn’t want to square off with this thing in the open. I mashed the butterfly trigger down.

The DhSK roared. Homes disintegrated as we played tag to the death with the Cubans at fifty miles an hour. The mighty 12.7 rounds crashed into the monstrosity, zipping right through the armor, and through the crew inside.

The BTR swerved hard toward us, smashed through a house, actually got some air, and careened onto our street. I kept the DhSK on it the whole time, stitching it from end to end, opening it like a teenager shooting a pop can with a .22. The BTR continued on at an angle and smashed through another house and disappeared onto another street.

“I think I got him!”

“No.” Carl pointed out the window. The BTR was now traveling down the street to our right. The 37mm cannon was rotating toward us. I cranked the DhSK back around and opened fire, bouncing wildly as the Toyota bounced and careened through the rutted road. Carl stomped on the brakes, I flew forward and smashed into the cab, as the cannon bloomed flame. The round narrowly missed us, and a pile of shantys exploded into flames and shrapnel.

I spit a mouthful of blood onto the roof, and shoved myself back onto the machinegun. The BTR was slightly ahead of us on the next street over. Carl suddenly accelerated. Somehow I knew exactly what he was doing. I cranked the DhSK around toward the front.

Carl swerved, crashing us through a fence made of sticks and cardboard. A pile of chickens fell victim to the Toyota, and suddenly birds and feathers were flying everywhere. We seemed to be airborne for a brief second, then the tires struck earth, and we were behind the speeding BTR.

I mashed the spade grips, the sight lined up on the rear end of the BTR. The muzzle brake reverberated painfully off the Toyota’s roof. Carl mashed his fingers into his ears, and steered with his knees. Round after round ripped through the armored vehicle from end to end, and it careened wildly to the side, and crashed into a ditch, flames suddenly licking out of its ports.

Carl pulled his fingers out of his ears, put one on the wheel, and one on the gear shift, and hammered the little Toyota forward. We zipped past the now burning BTR and toward freedom. A hot wind struck my back as it exploded behind us. Another black, oily, cloud was rising above Sweothi City as we speed onto the highway and past the sign pointing toward the Congolese border.

2:52 PM

####

Correia
March 13, 2007, 03:05 AM
The man looked up at me in fear, as he thrashed against the duct tape that held his wrists to the heavy chair. The old warehouse was deserted, and I knew that nobody would hear him scream. “Please, come on man, don’t do it!”

I held the syringe up to the flickering fluorescent light. “You know what this is?”

“No please, come on, I’m begging you.”

Did my father beg? No, of course not.

“It’s heroin. Mostly. The rest is drain cleaner. The heroin is to make this plausible. You’re just another scumbag junkie, got some bad stuff, had an overdose. There won’t even be an investigation. The drain cleaner is so this will hurt. A lot.”

“You can’t do this. T-Bone will kill you. He’ll ****ing kill you, man!” the thug screamed.

Did my father threaten violence? No. I’m sure he hadn’t. He was a man of peace and justice.

“T-Bone’s dead. I got him already. He fell out his apartment window. Landed on one of those pointy fences. The others are dead too. Ice got shot in a drive by shooting this morning. Little Mike is floating in the river. He fell in, couldn’t swim. Especially with those cinderblocks I tied to his legs.”

His eyes were wide. I could smell the fear. “Who the **** are you!”

“A year ago, you were passing through a little town near Houston. You beat a man to death. He was a good man. Why? Why did you do it?”

“I don’t know man! I don’t remember... He had a nice watch, or something. Come on, man, he was just some dude! We didn’t mean to kill him. Just mess him up, take his stuff.”

I stabbed the needle into his arm and smashed the plunger down. I tossed the now empty syringe aside. He began to convulse as I cut the tape away, and stuffed the evidence into my pocket. He fell to the floor as I walked away. I shut the lights off on the way out and left him in the dark to twitch and foam. I started walking, and didn’t look back.

The thing is, when you let the evil out, it is hard to put it back.

Sorry, Dad.

####

10 Kilometers east of Banti-Guonda, Congo

December 16th, 1993

Dreams of home. So long ago.

I woke up sore when I heard the sound of the airplane. The stitches on my arm, back, and legs were tight and itchy. Carl did good work. He was already awake, cleaning his Aug, while leaning in the shade beneath a crumpled tree. He had a bandage wrapped around his torso, over the carpet of black hair that was his body. The ruined Toyota was hidden in the bushes.

He squinted at me with beady eyes. “Bush planes coming in. You think we can trust this guy?”

I yawned. “Yeah. He’s good people... Phil specializes in helping people move valuable things. He owes me a favor. So Carl, you think about what you’re going to do now?”

“I don’t know.” He shrugged. “My company is gone. Most of us died in the coup. I don’t even know if my men made it out.”

“They’re with Decker. They made it.” I answered truthfully. As much as I hated the man, he was good, very good. “You know, I’m now out of work myself.” I pulled a black bag out of my pocket and tossed it to Carl.

He caught it absently, opened the drawstring, and shook some of its contents into the palm of his hand. He whistled.

“Switchblade had a few simple rules. The leader always got a double share, and he was the only one that has access to the Swiss bank account. Since the diamond exchange crossed us, I’m pretty sure nobody got paid. So we looted some of the treasury while we were in the palace. The six still gets a double share.”

Carl’s hand was filled with diamonds.

“I took the liberty of lifting Decker’s shares. And to think he called me a common thief. I’m pretty sure he’ll be massively pissed when he finds out. Good thing he thinks I’m dead.” I knew that was for the best. I would gain nothing by tracking Decker down. It was time for the evil to be put away once and for all.

“Not a bad haul,” Carl said, as he poured the diamonds back into the bag. He started to hand it back.

“No, that’s your share. I’ve got mine.”

“Serious?”

“Yeah, I’ve been thinking...” I said as the bush plane approached the runway, landing gear extended. “I’m going to go on my own, form my own team. Be my own boss. But I’m going to need help. Have you ever thought of stealing stuff for a living?”

“Can’t say that I have,” he answered. “Unless you count plundering Africa for twenty years. But I think I’m done doing that kind of thing.”

“Well, I’m thinking about only robbing bad people. They’ve got all the money anyway, and screwing with them is a whole lot of fun.”

The little plane touched down with a squeak of tires. Carl chewed his lip for a moment, then extended his hand.

I shook it. “Carl, I think this could be the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

####

atomicferret
March 13, 2007, 04:57 AM
Burning the midnight oil to get this out huh. Well I can say that I am absolutely entertained. So much for that paper I was supposed to write....

Correia
March 13, 2007, 10:49 AM
Now it's morning. And I'm really really tired. :D So if you see any typos/errors, keep in mind that I cranked out those last two posts from from 10:00-midnight.

Somebody has to keep you guys entertained until NC gets back. :)

That was pretty much it for my brief interlude from my character's past. Think of it as a special feature on a DVD. I'm done for now. I'll be back for book III.

Now back to your regularly scheduled Nightcrawler adventure.

Brian Dale
March 13, 2007, 11:03 AM
Oh.

Yeah.

Larry, that was...

Wow.

Correia
March 13, 2007, 11:30 AM
Thanks.

I had a 48 person CCW class last night. You have to be really ON when you're teaching, especially when you're trying to keep that many people's attention. So when I got home, I was just too wired to sleep.

Right now I'm kicking myself, damn daylight savings switcheroo.

Well, anyway, like I said, that was just a little interlude from Lorenzo's past. See, Lorenzo and Nightcrawler's fate was intertwined well before they ever met in Book II. And in Book III, the Evil and the Calm get to whoop some serious butt. :) You guys are going to love what we've got planned.

fiVe
March 13, 2007, 11:54 AM
Correia, thanks so much for that bit of Lorenzo history. I'm greatly anticipating #3. You and NC have given us so much to look forward to.

hankdatank1362
March 13, 2007, 03:15 PM
That was great.


This would make an awesome movie, you guys realize?

Correia
March 13, 2007, 03:37 PM
I'm so going to make a B movie. :)

Okay, I've asked this before during the Welcome Home thread, and it always fascinates me as a writer to see how the readers envision characters.

If you were going to cast the Nightcrawler saga as a movie, who would you pick to play who?

hacksaw
March 13, 2007, 04:04 PM
hmm to bad Bruce Campbell is to old....Maybe Owen Wilson....he looks like he would work for Beer and Kraft service....lol

ilcylic
March 13, 2007, 05:13 PM
eeeeeee-Cchaaiiiiii! Correia, that was... amazing.

I want to make a movie short of The Battle of ... Wherever The **** That Was. :)

Even if it was just the chase scene, it'd be great.

Too bad all of my productions are low-budget enough to not even be able to afford the DSHK, let alone a Soviet "Bradley". I could probably come up with a Toyota pickup and a column of oil fire, though...

----

I've always wanted to build a Somali style technical anyway. :) Not that I'm not halfway there with my car already...

Correia
March 13, 2007, 05:17 PM
I have access to every gun used in that scene, including the DhSK and the RPG. No BTR, but I do know a guy with one. :)

Man, I love my job...

Thanks, glad you liked it. I wasn't planning on doing anything in the prequel, but NC threatened to not pick me up a gyro for lunch a couple of weeks ago. With my precious Mad Greek held hostage, and no food at FBMG, I had no choice but to write something. :p

atomicferret
March 13, 2007, 06:13 PM
Man......Can't you see it?!?! you are addicted to the Mad Greek!!!

It is like a bad heroin addiction, you just want a little taste and then before you know it, it is 2 AM and you are looking for an open drive-thru and a gyro fix....

eta: for the record, I don't know if they are open that late, I ain't gonna enable you, man.....unless I get a taste myself:D

txgho1911
March 13, 2007, 06:14 PM
You had all day off yesterday aside from a class and this is all you wrote?
The guy is dripping diamonds and has all his limbs. Why not write up about some of his escapades taking loot and life from some real bad people!

Hey hire me so I can play on Mondays!

Correia
March 13, 2007, 06:38 PM
Well, I still managed to work for eight hours as an accountant before going to teach CCW. Damn it, I'm a slacker! A real writer would have written ten best sellers, appeared on Larry King, and had time to party at the Playboy Mansion. :p

Ferret, dude, you're right. I want a gyro. Right. NOW. AAAARRRGGHH!

Damn PvtPyle for introducing those to me. The Mad Greek loves Nightcrawler though, since we always send him on Saturdays to pick up the food, and he shows up and orders like ten gyros at a time. They even give him free soda now.

darkknight
March 13, 2007, 08:59 PM
Ed Norton should star in ur movie Correia. Norton is an amazing actor and I think would due it justice. Robert Patrick (The unit, Marine, terminator 2) would be good for decker. I would love to see either Vin Diesel, Colin Farrell, or Keifer Sutherland, or all three should star. You would prolly be broke by the cast alone though dammit. but theirs some many great actors that would be great for it just thought about de niro or pacino would be good deckers.

usp_fan
March 13, 2007, 11:48 PM
I'm going to have to visit FBMG and the this Mad Greek person next time I come out to visit my little brother. Thanks for the excitement. I was starting a new book tonight, but you ruined it. Andy Mcnab isn't as good as you guys.

--usp_fan

Nightcrawler
March 14, 2007, 12:06 AM
The Mad Greek is a great little Gyro place down the road from FBMG. It's owned by an old Greek gentleman that's probably the most polite man I've ever met.

I'd never had Greek food before, but now I too am addicted to their Gyros. Well, and their mozzerella sticks are pretty good, too. :cool:

steveracer
March 14, 2007, 12:35 PM
I have shown this thread to a friend, the head of the Literature Department at Bard College in eastern NY. He is a serious Anti, and a total idiot when it comes to guns. (Brilliant in all other aspects of life, what is that all about?)
Anyway, he is very impressed, and is following intently. Bard is one of the most liberal institutions in the country, and if one of their department heads is really liking this, you men have earned the respect and admiration of the enemy.
Good on ya.
Steve

Nightcrawler
March 14, 2007, 12:41 PM
Well, cool.

(English was always my best subject; one of my Profs at NMU, to this day, uses a paper I wrote (about trying to decide which .308 rifle to buy) as an example of paper writing for her students.

At any rate, regardless of anyone's political stripe, I'm glad they were able to enjoy my scratchings. :)

hacksaw
March 14, 2007, 12:48 PM
really I am....BUT I have noticed that our revered NC has posted SEVERAL times on numerous threads since he posted the last chapter of this magnificent epic. I hate to sound like the greedy self centered war-mongering, knuckle-dragger that my wife & thereapis believe me to be...but [B]HOW ABOUT ANOTHER CHAPTER PLEASE!!!!!!! I CANT STAND THE WITHDRAWAL!!!!![I]
Thank you, thankyouverymuch...

(great work, btw..as usual)

Nightcrawler
March 14, 2007, 12:50 PM
I haven't finished writing the next chapter yet.

Why don't I write it right now? Fair question.

I got home about an hour and forty five minutes ago. I should've been in bed forty-five minutes ago, as I've got to get up in...seven hours to get ready for work.

Twelve hour shifts suck. Sorry guys, update this weekend. :(

hankdatank1362
March 14, 2007, 12:54 PM
Anybody have the links to the other NC stories? This is the first I've bothered to read (I hate reading fiction, usually) and now I'm hooked like a smack addict!

Or Corriea's... that was pretty awesome too!

Correia
March 14, 2007, 01:47 PM
Here you go Hank, http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=207390&highlight=nightcrawler+lorenzo

That is what we're calling book II. This thread would be book I. Book III only exists in our mind.

creitzel
March 14, 2007, 01:53 PM
Anybody have the links to the other NC stories? This is the first I've bothered to read (I hate reading fiction, usually) and now I'm hooked like a smack addict!


In addition to what Correia posted, I believe this was the first story NC posted:

http://www.thehighroad.org/showthread.php?t=67844

Correia
March 14, 2007, 04:05 PM
Steve, that is cool to hear. Honestly I believe a good book should be written in a way that regardless of their background, a reader should be able to relate. If a big group of people can't relate to your writing, then you've failed as a writer. It isn't the readers fault if they don't get it. It is your job to make them "get it".

That is why I think a lot of books that are considered great literature, aren't. If it takes 1,000 pages of critical commentary to explain a 200 page book, then it probably doesn't deserve classical status. :p (but I'm still bitter, I barely passed high school english, didn't learn a damn thing, and squeeked through the bare neccesities in college).

MikePGS
March 14, 2007, 06:06 PM
I'm a slacker! A real writer would have written ten best sellers, appeared on Larry King, and had time to party at the Playboy Mansion.
I disagree. I read all the time, and i'd have to say that what i've read from you and Nightcrawler is easily on par with some of the best thrillers i've read, if not surpassing some. I started to read "The Bourne Identity" but couldn't really get into it, however from the start of chapter one of this i was immediately intrigued and have since read all of the chapters. It not only has a lot of good technical information (such as what calibers and models of guns, which i like reading about) but at its very essence is just plain old good storytelling.As far as a movie goes, Lance Henricksen would be a perfect choice for Decker.

Correia
March 14, 2007, 07:07 PM
Mike, if you like this one, seriously, read that link above. By the time we got finished, it was actually novel length. And each new scene was cranked out in a matter of hours. But somehow it turned out to not suck. :D

steveracer
March 14, 2007, 07:15 PM
He sits down with a pen and writes the whole thing. He sends it to the editor on a legal pad.
(His stuff sells like it's free, and lately, is total garbage.)

Run&Shoot
March 14, 2007, 07:16 PM
OK, so its been a matter of hours. Where's our fix? :D

This latest book is even better than #2. You guys have really gotten polished. Smoother dialogue, transitions, and blending of the two story lines. You guys really rock.

It's like watching Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle being born! :what:

tuna
March 14, 2007, 07:17 PM
Awesome, just awesome!!!

fiVe
March 14, 2007, 07:20 PM
And each new scene was cranked out in a matter of hours.

Correia,

You & NC have a unique talent for great, "real-time", "on-the-fly" writing.

ndh87
March 15, 2007, 02:56 AM
Each chapter is better than the last. The back story on Lorenzo is great. Cant wait to hear what happens next.

Glock22
March 15, 2007, 02:56 PM
There hasn't been an update recently I am starting to shake and have nervous sweats.

cpaspr
March 15, 2007, 07:26 PM
Nightcrawler has promised an update this weekend.

And as we have seen, when Nightcrawler promises, he delivers.

Or, is that Lorenzo?

Or both?

Stay tuned and find out.

bamawrx
March 15, 2007, 10:08 PM
Bookmark

creitzel
March 17, 2007, 06:47 PM
Ok, can't have this falling off of the first page of posts now can we?

I think NC is just trying to build up some suspense here. :neener:

preWWWIIbuff
March 18, 2007, 04:19 PM
THANK YOU BOTH......MORE and yes it IS BETTER THEN EVER:fire:

Glock22
March 18, 2007, 04:27 PM
If Nightcrawler is just trying to build suspense then his plan is working.

Stickjockey
March 18, 2007, 05:50 PM
Oh Craww-w-w-ler-rrrr, where are you?

hacksaw
March 18, 2007, 10:01 PM
This is worse than waiting for Christmas as a kid!

Correia
March 18, 2007, 10:18 PM
I just spoke with Nightcrawler. (the real one, not the fictional one).

He's really sick. He'll get something posted soon, but isn't in any condition to do much right now.

fiVe
March 19, 2007, 01:22 AM
Get well soon, NC. (prayers sent)

preWWWIIbuff
March 19, 2007, 01:42 AM
Get well sooon
All the Best to you and Yours.:uhoh:

Nightcrawler
March 19, 2007, 06:31 AM
11: EXODUS

I stood alone, watching the sun sink towards the horizon. The Nevada sky had turned a fiery red, filled with billowy golden clouds. It was so quiet there that I felt at peace for the first time in what seemed like ages. I don’t know how long I stood there before I heard someone approaching.

“Whattaya say, kid?” Hawk asked, handing me a cold Dr. Pepper.

“Just watching the sunset. It’s so pretty here. So brown, though.”

“Not used to the desert, eh? I grew up not far from here. Little town called Goodsprings. It’s to the northeast aways.”

“Back home it’s all hills, lakes, and trees,” I said, surveying the dusty property behind Hawk’s home.

“Yeah…I love the desert, though. Now what’s eatin’ ya?”

“I got a bad feeling about this next job,” I said, not looking at him. He patted me roughly on the shoulder.

“I know Ramirez gettin’ killed is botherin’ ya too. It happens, kid. All you can do is deal with it.”

“Is it weird? I’ve killed people before. But…he was one of us. It’s not supposed to happen like that.”

“SWITCHBLADE has lost a lot of guys, Hopper,” Hawk said, turning his attention to the horizon as well. “Decker, Aryeh, Doc, an’ me are the only ones left of the original team. Aside from Ramirez, there were five other guys that bought it before we split up last time.”

“When was that?”

“Hell’s bells, kid…ninety-four, I think? You were in elementary school anyway.”

“Sixth or seventh grade, I think.”

“Well thanks kid, I don’t feel like an old fart now,” Hawk said, a rough grin splitting his bearded face. “Here, I got somethin’ for ya.” He handed what looked like an aluminum briefcase.

“What’s this?” I asked, crouching down. I laid the case in the dust and opened it. My eyes grew wide at what I saw.

“Holy ****…” I said, lifting one of the revolvers out of the case. There were two of them. They were both Smith & Wesson Model 629 revolvers, chambered for the .44 Magnum cartridge. One had a five-inch, full underlug barrel, and the other had a three-inch barrel. I stood up with the five-inch gun in my hands, and opened the cylinder. Snapping it shut, I pulled the trigger, and was shocked at how light and smooth the pull was. The cylinder locked up like a bank vault. Tritium night sights faintly glowed in the dusk.

“Hawk…holy ****…I…wow.”

“Replaced a lot of the internals with aftermarket parts, all forged and hand-fitted. Smoothed out the trigger, installed the night sights which, if ya look, are a might better made than the factory ones. Bead blasted both of ‘em. I think those rubber grips ya like ruins ‘em, personally, but it’s yer gun."

“I don’t know what to say,” I said, pointing the big revolver at the horizon and pulling the trigger again.

“Hopper, yer a man after my own heart. Kids these days don’t want to shoot a real gun. They like their little plastic auto-chuckers. You took to a sixgun like I ain’t never seen, kid. Yer good. Ya got talent.” With Hawk’s coaching, I found that I was getting very good with the Colt King Cobra .357 he’d given me. I was about as good a shooter as you’d expect me to be for my level of training, except when I was shooting a double-action revolver. There was just something about them that brought out the best I could do. Corwin and Jeff couldn’t believe how fast I should shoot my ‘obsolete’ revolvers, nor how fast I could reload them. They were shocked the first time I was able to consistently ring the steel target at one hundred yards with a four-inch barreled .357. It just felt natural to me.

“You think we’re gonna be alright, Hawk? Down in South America, I mean.”

“Never can tell, kid. Don’t sweat dyin’. Everybody dies. Sun comes up the next day, wind keeps on blowin’. Sooner or later ya run outta luck, and there ain’t nothin’ ya can do. Just don’t worry about it. Live yer life.”

“I know. It’s just…Ramirez…it was so stupid…it was just a leg wound for Chrissakes.” The bullet had severed Ramirez’ femoral artery; Doc couldn’t stop the bleeding in time.

“**** happens. That’s why it’s important to make the most of it. Ya only get one death, kid. Make it a good one. Now c’mon, we’re gettin’ our picture taken out front. Go grab yer rifle.”

“Is that a good idea?” Hawk laughed.

“Probably not, but what the hell?”

Nightcrawler
March 19, 2007, 06:34 AM
“…And in other news, authorities are now admitting that the trail of Michael Valentine has gone cold. Valentine is sought for questioning regarding an unprecedented terrorist attack in the dormitories at Northern Michigan University six weeks ago.” The screen switched from the attractive newscaster to a computer generated map of Upper Michigan, highlighting Marquette and NMU. “Authorities believe that this incident is related to a gunfight at a local Wal-Mart store, as well as a massacre of suspected human traffickers a few days later. Valentine is not considered a suspect at this time and he has not been charged with a crime.”

The screen changed again, this time showing the same old stock footage of police cars outside of Spanner Hall. A moment later, Austin appeared on the screen.

“Yeah, there were like six guys, all armed with machine guns. Valentine? Yeah, he lived across the hall from me. One of these guys had a gun on him, so I, you know, I clocked the guy with my bat.”

“How did that make you feel?” the reporter asked.

“It was intense, but you know, these guys came into our dorm and tried to kill everybody. Valentine stopped them. It was crazy, he was like the Terminator or something.” The screen cut back to the newscaster.

“Authorities believe that the dorm attack was in fact an attempt to kill Valentine. What isn’t clear is why a seemingly average student would be targeted in the first place.” The screen cut again to a big, hulking FBI agent, who looked nothing less than awkward in front of a podium.

“Good afternoon. My name is Special Agent Robert Lorenzo. We just want Mr. Valentine to come forward and answer some questions. He is not a suspect at this time, and has not been charged with a crime. We believe his actions in the dorm constitute a clear case of self-defense, regardless of the fact that the guns themselves were illegal for him to have there. We just want to talk to him, and we’re not going to throw him in jail. There are some legal issues regarding him having firearms in the university dorms, but if he comes forward we can find the best solution for everyone involved. At this time we believe that Mr. Valentine was somehow involved with the shooting at the Wal-Mart, and may have information regarding the killings of the suspected human traffickers a few days later. If anyone has any information regarding his whereabouts, please contact your local FBI office. Thank you.” The screen changed again. I laughed at what I saw.

“That can’t be you,” Ling said. I was startled. I hadn’t realized she’d entered the room. The image on the screen was of a scruffy-looking young man, with a shaggy, unkempt goatee, long, uncombed hair, small dark stoner sunglasses, and many piercings in his ears and eyebrows.

“Yep,” I said with a grin, “that’s me. Grew my hair out, didn’t shave for months, got some piercings done. That’s my student ID photo. The one on my driver’s license is about the same. If you can believe it, I went around like that for my first year of school. I felt ridiculous.” Ling looked at me and laughed. I was clean-shaven with my hair cropped in a short military buzzcut, and there was no metal to be found on my face. “They’re going to have a hard time finding me if that’s the only picture they have. And it is the only picture they have, as far as I know. I was very careful to avoid having my picture taken while at school. Even if they do have a more recent picture, so what? I’m just another white guy with short hair.”

The fact that I look so unassuming has often been to my advantage. When people see a guy with glasses and a quiet demeanor, they often make assumptions about him based on that appearance. I look like just another college geek; they don’t often assume that I’m packing a .44.

“Have you considered my offer?” Ling asked, sitting next to me. We were in yet another safe house, this one in northern Iowa, while we planned our next move.

“I have. I still don’t know. It’s not that I don’t agree with what you do, it’s just…I mean…” I fell silent briefly, struggling to find the words to describe what I was feeling. “I don’t want to do this anymore. I’m a murderer,” I said at last.

“So am I,” she said steadily.

“That’s not what I mean. I…”

“Lives are lives, Michael,” she said, cutting me off. “Both of us have ended many of them. Can we really claim to know the heart of each man we kill? Do you really know if he is a good man or a bad one?”

“But EXODUS…”

“…Kills every slaver we catch, yes,” she said, interrupting me again. “Does that sound contradictory? It did to me at first also, but what we do is not just carnage and mayhem. Fear is one of our weapons, Michael. In some places in the world, we’ve succeeded in shutting down the slave trade. There are places where we operate more openly, and in those places, would-be slavers know that invoking our wrath will cost them their lives. It’s the only way to get through to the type of person who would do such a thing. It also serves to protect the victims we free.”

“You really don’t lose any sleep over it, do you?” I asked, turning off the television in front of us.

“I do,” she said, looking at the floor. “I feel guilty for the loss of my subordinates. I feel guilty for those poor souls that we are unable to save. I feel sad that there is such evil in the world that EXODUS is even necessary. But this is a war, Michael, and wars have casualties. Is killing a slaver somehow less moral than killing an enemy soldier? Is bombing an enemy city morally superior to bombing the offices of a human-trafficking ring? As I said, I don’t do it because I relish killing. I do it because it must be done. We are the only hope of countless lost souls held in bondage, who every day pray that someone will save them.

“I have been a slave, Michael. My mother didn’t want me. She was a prostitute in Hong Kong, and I was an unwelcome surprise. My father was one of her clients, I suppose, but I’ll never know. I ran away when I was thirteen, hoping to get to America. I worked hard to save up the money to pay a human trafficker to get me on a ship to Los Angeles. Eventually I had saved up the money, but instead of taking me to America he sold me to a Chinese Triad. Human trafficking made them countless millions of dollars, and I was just one of hundreds that they moved each year. They sold me to a wealthy Arab man in Saudi Arabia when I was fourteen.

“At first, I prayed for rescue. After a few months, though, I abandoned hope, and I prayed for death. I tried to kill myself. I tried to slash my wrists. Each time the Arab would bring in a doctor, and I would be restrained to my bed. When I would recover, he would beat me. If I refused his bed, he would beat me. If I looked out the window, he would beat me. I didn’t leave his house for two years.” Ling’s voice wavered as she told her story, and she didn’t look at me. She absentmindedly played with the remote for the television, and kept her eyes focused on it.

“How did you escape?”

“EXODUS saved me. The Arab took me to a black market auction house. There are many such houses in the Middle East. He was tired of me and was going to sell me for a few thousand dollars. EXODUS raided the house right in the middle of the auction. The Arab was killed, and I was saved. I felt such hatred for him, such anger at the world, that I joined EXODUS to get revenge. But…hatred fades with time, if you let it. I came to see the higher purpose of the organization, and by the time I was assigned to a strike team, it was no longer about me and my petty revenge. It was about saving those who have no hope, and who cannot help themselves.”

Ling looked up at last, offering me a sad smile. I don’t think she was aware that there were tears rolling down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” she said. “There are few I’ve told this to. It is not easy for me to say. It brings back a lot of things I try to forget.”

“I understand that, believe me.”

“You are very easy to talk to, Michael,” she said, smiling still. “I am a leader. My subordinates are like my family, yet I cannot confide in them as such. I know they wouldn’t judge me, but I can’t afford to have them worrying about me, either. Yet I’ve known you for not two months and I just told you my life story.” She laughed. “Again, I apologize. Listen to me babbling on like a school girl.”

“It’s cool,” I said, smiling a back at her. “That was my problem in college. I couldn’t talk to anybody. My whole life was a lie, and it was eating me up.”

“So will you join EXODUS?”

“I don’t know. I will finish this fight, though. I’ve got a score to settle with these sons o’ bitches and I’m going to see it through. When are you planning to hit Des Moines?”

“Soon,” she said. “Another strike team will be arriving shortly.”

“Think you could use some more help?”

“Always,” she replied. “What did you have in mind?”

“Lemme borrow your sat-phone,” I said, grinning. “I’m going to get the boys back together.”

Nightcrawler
March 19, 2007, 06:35 AM
“Hello?” The voice I heard on the other end of the line was one I hadn’t heard in quite some time.

“Yo,” I said, smiling to myself.

“…Mike? Holy ****, what’s going on? You shouldn’t…” Corwin paused. “The chair is against the wall.”

“John has a long moustache,” I replied. Corwin sounded less tense having received confirmation that it was me and that I hadn’t been compromised.

“What’s going on?” he asked at last. “You haven’t contacted me directly in…Christ, I didn’t know you had my number!”

“We’ve got work.”

“What?”

“Yeah dude. I’ve got a job for us.”

“What’s the job?”

“I’ll e-mail you a mission packet. Where are you?”

“Okinawa.”

“What the hell are you doing in Okinawa?”

“There’s a famous Japanese swordmaker here. I’m going to see if he’ll make me a sword.”

“Are you serious? God you are such a geek.”

“Coming from the guy who’s seen every Godzilla movie ever made?” I laughed.

“How fast can you get here?”

“Well that depends. Where are you?”

“Iowa.”

“What the **** are you doing in Iowa?”

“Long story. I need you to fly back to the States, get your stuff, and drive here. The exact location will be in the mission packet.” There was a long pause, and he breathed into the phone a few times.

“Fine,” he said at last. “Gimme a couple days.”

“Thanks dude. It’ll be good to see you again.”

“You too.” He hung up. I laughed to myself, and dialed another number. The phone rang six times before someone answered.

“Hello?”

“’Sup, dude?"I grinned.

“Hopper? Dude, seriously, what are you…the chair is against the wall.”

“John has a long moustache. What’s goin’ on?”

“What’s wrong? I saw on the news about you. Are you sure you should be contacting me? Do you need help?”

“Everything’s fine, bro. I just e-mailed you a mission packet.”

“What? I haven’t decoded your e-mail yet. What do you mean, a mission packet?”

“We’ve got work.”

“Seriously?”

“For-real-iously. I need to you come to Iowa.”

“Iowa?”

“Long story, dude, it’s all in the mission packet. Will you come? Matthew’s on his way.”

“What about Hawk?”

“Not with his bum knee. He needs a cane now.”

“I didn’t know it was that bad.”

“I told him he was going to kill himself on that stupid motorcycle.”

“That’s too bad.”

“Will you come?”

“Sure. Just call and screw up my life anytime, Boss. No problem.”

“It’s for a good cause, dude. Read the packet and you’ll see what I mean. See you in a couple of days.”

“Later,” he said, hanging up the phone. I hadn’t been called “Boss” in a long time. I wasn’t sure I liked it.

Nightcrawler
March 19, 2007, 06:37 AM
Everyone arrived a few days later. It was good to see my former teammates again. I also got to meet Ling’s associates. We all gathered in the dining room of the safe house for introductions.

“Michael,” Ling said, “Allow me to introduce Ibrahim, a fellow strike team leader.” Ibrahim stepped forward. He was a tall, muscular man, probably in his early thirties, of obvious Middle Eastern descent. His hair was cropped short, and a thin moustache accented his tanned face. I stuck my hand out and he shook it firmly.

“My name is Michael Valentine,” I said, “and these are my associates, Jeff and Corwin.”

“It is my pleasure,” Ibrahim said. “You will be assisting Ling’s team then?”

“That’s the plan.”

“Very good! Ling, I am sorry to hear of the loss of Alexis. How is Samseer?”

“He’s walking again,” Ling said, sadness suddenly apparent in her eyes. “He has a long road ahead, but the doctors think he will recover. He’ll likely not be able to return to my team, though.”

“Such a tragedy,” Ibrahim said, looking downward. “I will pray for them both.”

“Thank you, my friend,” she said, taking his hand. “How is your team?”

“We are well! You remember Solomon, the young man from Sierra Leone? He has turned into a most effective operative. We are looking forward to working with you.”

“And I you.” I realized then what a tight-knit little community EXODUS was. Ling smiled at her compatriot one last time, then walked to the head of the table. I looked around. Everyone was there. Ibrahim and his five teammates, Dr. Bundt, Michel, Shen, and my own guys, plus a few more people I didn’t recognize.

“Let us begin,” Ling said, turning on an overhead projector. “Good evening everyone. This will be one of our most important, as well as riskiest, missions in recent memory.” She clicked the projector, and a picture of a large farmhouse appeared.

“This is a farm about twenty kilometers outside of Des Moines. Officially it is just one more dairy farm. However, it is owned by one of the most powerful human trafficking firms in North America. They specialize in sex slaves, and most of their victims are children. We estimate there are some thirty to forty such victims being held there. We have a source on the inside that has been feeding us information on their moves. That is how I was able to warn you of the attack on your dormitory, Michael,” she said, addressing me directly before continuing.

“Our source tells us that several clients will be there this Sunday to make their selections. We are going to hit the site then, while the clients are present, and we will try to deal with them and any other targets that present themselves. We cannot allow any of the victims to be taken from there.”

“What about the cops?” Corwin asked. Ling chewed her lip for a moment before responding.

“The trafficking firm in question caters to very wealthy and very influential people. There will undoubtedly be a lot of security on site, but given the nature of their operation I doubt they’ll call the police even in the event of an attack. This will work to our advantage, as having a police response would greatly complicate our getting the victims out of there.”

“Wait, why can’t we just turn them over to the police?” Jeff asked.

“As I said, the clientele of this establishment are very wealthy and very influential. There may even be officials of the American government present. We cannot guarantee the safety of the victims we liberate unless we filter them through the Underground Railroad.”

Ling continued with her briefing. The plan was straightforward. We’d hit just after sundown on the night of the auction. We were most likely going to have a serious fight on our hands, and it was going to get ugly. None of the employees or clients of the trafficking ring were to leave the site alive, if at all possible. I had no doubt that Ling’s teammates would carry out her grim orders without hesitation.

After that, we’d once again split up the victims. We had four large vans at our disposal, and we’d commandeer (steal) other vehicles if necessary. They’d then be taken directly to one of several Underground Railroad stations in the United States. We would split up, with Ling’s team returning to the safe house we were at, and Ibrahim’s team heading for another.

When the briefing was finished, we all gathered in the safe house’s large living room, where I got to witness a ritual that few outsiders ever have. One of the people I didn’t recognize, an older gentleman, walked to the front of the room with a book in his hands. He looked around, nodded, and opened the book. Everyone in the room kneeled, leaving Jeff, Corwin, and myself standing at the back of the room. We looked at each other, and then awkwardly kneeled like everyone else. The man with the book spoke, his voice at once comforting and authoritative.

“Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy name. As we prepare for battle, we ask that you give to us Your divine guidance. Help us save the innocent and the defenseless from the den of the wicked. Bring justice to those that would break Your laws and enslave their fellow man. Watch over our warriors and let no harm come to them, so that they may continue in their service to you. Forgive us for our sins, for we know the price of the battle ahead. If any of us should fall, we humbly beseech you to take them into Your kingdom, that light may shine on them forever more. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done.”

“Amen,” everyone said in unison. Indeed.

Later that night, Corwin, Jeff, and I sat together in the basement of the safe house. All of the stuff from my storage unit was down there, as well as Corwin’s and Jeff’s gear. We had it all laid out on a wooden work-bench, and were going over what we’d need.

My friends were a mis-matched pair. Corwin was a little shorter than me, stocky and strong, with dark hair and a goatee. Jeff was shorter still, a skinny Chinese-American with a wide, toothy grin. None of us seemed as lean or mean as I recalled; two years of cushy retirement had really taken its toll on us. I smiled, reminding myself to re-adjust my body armor to fit over my paunch.

“This is going to be a serious assault,” I said. “I’m going heavy. Full body armor, load bearing vest, sidearm. I’ll be taking eight mags for my rifle, three speedloaders for my revolver.”

“I can’t believe you still carry that thing,” Jeff said, reassembling his Beretta 92 Elite.

“It’s a good luck charm. You bring your shotgun?”

“Yeah, my carbine too. Not sure which to carry.”

“I’ve got a carbine,” Corwin said, indicating the disassembled M4A1 laying on the work bench.

“Okay, I’ll carry my Benelli, then,” Jeff replied, inserting a magazine into his pistol and chambering a round.

“What the hell are these?” Corwin asked, removing from one of my containers a large object that resembled a rolling pin with one of the handles removed.

“RKG-3s,” I said. “Russian anti-tank grenades.”

“What do you have anti-tank grenades for?” I looked at him incredulously.

“In case there’s a tank.”

“Why would there be a tank?”

“Remember Bolivia?”

“Dude, a BTR-60 is an APC, not a tank,” Jeff said, grinning.

“It might as well be when all you’ve got is a rifle,” I replied with a laugh. ****ing Cubans. “Think fast! Knife check!” I reached into my pocket and retrieved a Benchmade automatic knife. I pushed the button, causing the blade to snap out, and stuck it into the wooden work bench. Corwin and Jeff reciprocated, each producing a switchblade knife of their own and stabbing it into the wood next to mine. We all laughed.

“God damn it’s good to see you guys again. Just like always, if anything happens to me, send my stuff to Hawk.”

“Me too,” Corwin said.

“Yeah, send my stuff to him too,” Jeff replied. Damn, I thought. It’s been almost two years. We’re all supposed to be retired. Yet none of us have really settled down. None of us have any family or any next-of-kin. All we’ve got is each other.

“Okay guys,” I said, a predatory grin splitting my face. “Let’s show these ****ing amateurs how we do it in SWITCHBLADE.”

Mandirigma
March 19, 2007, 07:06 AM
AHHH.......yeah that hit the spot.


Heh, good things come to those who wait....

bad LT
March 19, 2007, 07:43 AM
Well worth the wait.:D

Nightcrawler
March 19, 2007, 08:57 AM
I'm alive. I feel better, thank you.

I just...slept through most of Sunday, is all. Blech. About eleven hours, I think.

http://www.mysmiley.net/imgs/smile/sick/sick.gif (http://www.mysmiley.net)

Tune in next week for part 12: "The Des Moines Incident". :cool:

ilcylic
March 19, 2007, 10:28 AM
"I'm sick", he says. "I can't write for ****", he says. And here I am, rivetted to my chair... ;)

Good stuff, NC. Please, sir, may I have some more?

DRZinn
March 19, 2007, 10:47 AM
Next week? NEXT WEEK????? You expect us to wait that long?

Well, I guess we'll wait, then.

Stickjockey
March 19, 2007, 10:55 AM
Aahhhhh. thanks, NC, I feel better now.

Tune in next week for part 12: "The Des Moines Incident".

http://www.mysmiley.net/imgs/smile/happy/happy0208.gif (http://www.mysmiley.net)

fiVe
March 19, 2007, 11:49 AM
Hopper, yer a man after my own heart. Kids these days don’t want to shoot a real gun. They like their little plastic auto-chuckers.

Priceless line, NC. Revolvers rule!

Glock22
March 19, 2007, 12:40 PM
Nightcrawler that story just got me through Econ this morning. Thanks.

Nightcrawler
March 19, 2007, 12:42 PM
Well, it's certainly gratifying that I'm, um, keeping students from...paying attention in class...? :uhoh:


:D

hankdatank1362
March 19, 2007, 01:31 PM
The chair is against the wall?

John has a long mustache?

I love it!

Correia
March 19, 2007, 10:03 PM
“SWITCHBLADE has lost a lot of guys, Hopper,” Hawk said, turning his attention to the horizon as well. “Decker, Aryeh, Doc, an’ me are the only ones left of the original team. Aside from Ramirez, there were five other guys that bought it before we split up last time.”

“When was that?”

“Hell’s bells, kid…ninety-four, I think? You were in elementary school anyway.”

In reality, they only lost four. But what Hawk don't know... and Lorenzo wants to keep it that way. :)

Mandirigma
March 19, 2007, 11:27 PM
A song for the soundtrack.

Youtube video

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JC153jjWQSM


Breaking Benjamin -Blow me away

They fall in line
One at a time
Ready to play
(I can't see them anyway)
No time to lose
We've got to move
Steady your hand
(I am losing sight again)

Fire your guns
It's time to run
Blow me away
(I will stay, in the mess I made)
After the fall
We'll shake it off
Show me the way

Only the strongest will survive
Lead me to heaven, when we die
I am the shadow on the wall
I'll be the one to save us all

There's nothing left
So save your breath
Lying in wait
(Caught inside this tidal wave)
Your cover's blown
No where to go
Holding your fate
(Loaded I will walk alone)

Fire your guns
It's time to run
Blow me away
(I will stay, in the mess I made)
After the fall
We'll shake it off
Show me the way

Only the strongest will survive
Lead me to heaven, when we die
I am the shadow on the wall
I'll be the one to save us all

Geronimo45
March 19, 2007, 11:56 PM
Love it. Great job y'all are doing here! Nightcrawler, this book may be even better than your last one. Keep it up!

qlajlu
March 20, 2007, 06:37 AM
I am absolutely furious!

Furious, I tell ya!

Furious with myself!

Furious with myself for spending too much time in L&P and not even seeing this thread get started. I just had to spend the last four hours "catching up." It was absolutely necessary.

NC and Correia, I appreciate what you are doing here and the way it is written now I can see the dots being connected. I find it intriguing the way you have woven such a tight web between Lorenzo and Crawler.

When you guys were writing and posting "Welcome..." I learned how to protect my keyboard! Thank Gawd! You just sneak up on people with the funny stuff when they least expect it.

Love it!

Oh, and Technosavant, I found your comments in Post #70 (http://www.thehighroad.org/showpost.php?p=3176216&postcount=70) to be very chilling but appropriate. They reminded me of the movie, Pale Rider with Clint Eastwood when the girl at the window is reading about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. ("And I looked and beheld a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.")

Nightcrawler
March 20, 2007, 11:28 AM
That's what I like about Valentine, and what I think endears him to most readers. He's very atypical when compared to your run-of-the-mill action hero. He can't talk to girls, he doesn't always have a witty line, he doesn't have more skills/degrees/titles than you can shake the proverbial blaster at. Basically, he's the polar opposite of Clive Cussler's "Dirk Pitt" character. Hell, he's even a nice guy.

But he's a natural born killer, and no matter how hard he tries to run away from that, it's the only thing he excels at. In this story you can see the two halves of his personality; the awkward, geeky college student, and the calm mercenary. Kind of bipolar, I guess, but as the story goes on he begins to accept both halves of who he is.

In case I haven't been especially clear, the calm is a psychological state that Valentine falls into with the onset of adrenaline. I believe there is actually a clinical name for this condition, but neither he nor I are aware of it, so he just calls it what it feels like.

He can't control it, but depends on it. It's the crux of why he's good at what he does. It's a sense of intense focus and calm detachment, "like playing a video game". It's not that he's not afraid, but the fear becomes academic, and it doesn't affect his motor functions. His reaction times decrease, his decision-making capacity increases, and his overall efficiency goes up considerably.

The downshot is that he can't maintain this state for long periods of time, and is as subject to fatigue as anyone else.

It's similar to, but not quite a disassociative personality disorder. The side effects? Pronounced PTSD, mainly.

You know, in case you were interested in the psychoanalysis of a fictional character. :D

Technosavant
March 20, 2007, 01:29 PM
Oh, and Technosavant, I found your comments in Post #70 to be very chilling but appropriate. They reminded me of the movie, Pale Rider with Clint Eastwood when the girl at the window is reading about the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. ("And I looked and beheld a pale horse; and his name that sat on him was Death, and Hell followed with him.")

Eh, it's just a complete ripoff of Terry Pratchett's Discworld series. I'd suggest Reaper Man, Mort, Hogfather, etc. I'm surprised nobody caught it (or at least nobody called me out on it). :D

ozwyn
March 21, 2007, 09:02 AM
just a little bump to keep this story on the first page where I can keep an eye on it

cordex
March 21, 2007, 04:13 PM
Darn it, Nightcrawler and Correia ...

I managed to avoid getting sucked in to your initial story but got nailed with "Welcome Back" and read it religiously.

I had seen this thread growing and figured I would skip it. Too much going on right now to really get going on something new. "Oh, I'll just have a peek," says I.

Harumph.

Come on, one or both of you needs to update this ... and soon.

qlajlu
March 21, 2007, 04:24 PM
I had seen this thread growing and figured I would skip it. Too much going on right now to really get going on something new. "Oh, I'll just have a peek," says I.

Harumph.

Come on, one or both of you needs to update this ... and soon.
You can't fight it.

*chuckle*

Welcome back into the fold cordex along with us other addicts. Pull up a chair and be patient. Someone is popping the corn and will pass it around when it is done. In the meantime just relax...if possible...with the rest of your friends and members of THR here as we drum our fingers.

...waiting

...waiting

...finger drum

Glock22
March 21, 2007, 04:50 PM
Ok so you brought the popcorn, I have the soda, who is ordering the pizza? :D

cpaspr
March 21, 2007, 05:21 PM
Sorry! Ya'll gonna have to get your own. As many as are reading this thread I'd have to rob some SE Asian bank to finance that much pizza.

Oh, wait. That's Lorenzo's gig.

hjames000
March 22, 2007, 02:18 PM
bump:)

qlajlu
March 22, 2007, 03:12 PM
bump
Okay, I will say it. There are probably 800 - 2,000 viewers waiting for the next installation of this excellent story and have, like good little boys and girls, subscribed to this thread to be notified by e-mail when a new post is made. Along comes someone with a simple "Bump" and 8,000 totally hooked, anxiously waiting fans stumble over each other in their rush back here to see the new continuation to the story and find A BUMP!

I don't know about y'all but I find that positively infuriating. Now I have to lick my wounds where I scraped myself when I fell, try to settle down, and try to concentrate, once again, on what I was supposed to be doing before.

If you are going to do something like that at least have the common courtesy to post something funny! Now everyone is going to have to log in and then log back out in order to reset their automatic e-mail notification for this thread!

AARRUGGHH!

mpthole
March 22, 2007, 03:56 PM
qlajlu: Amen!!!

I usually skip any post that isn't another chapter, but I skimmed over Nightcrawler's post above:
In case I haven't been especially clear, the calm is a psychological state that Valentine falls into with the onset of adrenaline. I believe there is actually a clinical name for this condition, but neither he nor I are aware of it, so he just calls it what it feels like.

He can't control it, but depends on it. It's the crux of why he's good at what he does. It's a sense of intense focus and calm detachment, "like playing a video game". It's not that he's not afraid, but the fear becomes academic, and it doesn't affect his motor functions. His reaction times decrease, his decision-making capacity increases, and his overall efficiency goes up considerably.
It reminded me of a book (http://www.amazon.com/Flow-Psychology-Experience-Mihaly-Csikszentmihalyi/dp/0060920432) I read at the university about a state of being called Flow (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mihaly_Csikszentmihalyi#Flow). Everyone experiences a feeling like this to varying degrees.

Anyway... good stuff. :)

the naked prophet
March 22, 2007, 04:02 PM
Okay, I will say it. There are probably 800 - 2,000 viewers waiting for the next installation of this excellent story and have, like good little boys and girls, subscribed to this thread to be notified by e-mail when a new post is made. Along comes someone with a simple "Bump" and 8,000 totally hooked, anxiously waiting fans stumble over each other in their rush back here to see the new continuation to the story and find A BUMP!

I don't know about y'all but I find that positively infuriating. Now I have to lick my wounds where I scraped myself when I fell, try to settle down, and try to concentrate, once again, on what I was supposed to be doing before.

If you are going to do something like that at least have the common courtesy to post something funny! Now everyone is going to have to log in and then log back out in order to reset their automatic e-mail notification for this thread!

AARRUGGHH!


I just tortured two thousand people. :neener:

cordex
March 22, 2007, 04:20 PM
I just tortured two thousand people.
Jack Bauer is still ahead of you by a few thousand.

Glock22
March 22, 2007, 05:03 PM
Ha Ha Ha Ha bump! :neener:

qlajlu
March 22, 2007, 05:08 PM
Ha Ha Ha Ha bump!
Well, that isn't quite what I had in mind when I wrote to post something funny.

NY'er
March 24, 2007, 02:20 PM
but I've been jonesing for the next chapter like a crackhead for his next fix




Oh NiiightCrawlerrrr......... Come out and pla-E-ay!!!!!! :neener:
(mimicking the part near the end of the old cheesy 70's NY gang movie "The Warriors"....)

btw~ I hope you're feeling better, and keep up the GREAT work!

Correia
March 25, 2007, 01:07 AM
I spoke with Nightcrawler today. He hasn't had a chance to finish this because of some important Security Guarding.

Basically, if you and your family are alive and free tonight, you owe it to Nightcrawler. Sleep well, America.





:p



Seriously, he's working on it. :)

qlajlu
March 25, 2007, 01:17 AM
...because of some important Security Guarding...if you and your family are alive and free tonight, you owe it to Nightcrawler.
Ooh, that makes me feel all warm and fuzzy...and safe! :D

cpaspr
March 25, 2007, 01:46 AM
Even though we're all (mostly) resisting the desire to whine, beg and plead for more, it's good to know he's not still sick. And, of course, that his absence is for a VERY good reason.

BTDT a year ago, and if I'm never that sick again it will be too soon. :barf:

Nightcrawler
March 25, 2007, 01:50 AM
Hello everybody.

My illness last week wasn't an illness per say; it was a migrane, which I still (mercifully, infrequently) suffer from. The feeling ill came from all of the Excedrin and Motrin I took to knock it out. Together they were doing jumping jacks in my stomach.

As for this weekend...Larry's right. I'm not at liberty to discuss the details of the black op in question, but needless to say I, with a little help from Chuck Norris, prettymuch saved the free world from enslavement and destruction today.

Tomorrow I'm going out of town. Look for the update on Monday, though it MAY get delayed. Remember, I"m putting a lot more polish into the chapters now, and don't post the first draft. And the next chapter is the climax of this story (I'm afraid it's almost over), so it has to be just right.

Thanks everybody. :o

SwampFox
March 25, 2007, 07:25 AM
"Look for the update on Monday, though it MAY get delayed."

NOOOOOOOOOooooooooo!!!!!!!!!:banghead:

The_Future
March 25, 2007, 12:04 PM
NC: And the next chapter is the climax of this story (I'm afraid it's almost over), so it has to be just right.

Almost over!!!!! :eek:

Larry Please tell me there is going to be some more background given on Lorenzo, or that MHI is on the way to the printers. You and NC can't just cut us off so soon after we just got hooked again.

Correia
March 25, 2007, 02:37 PM
Well, MHI is still on hold until I get a final yay or nay from certain important people.

I'm not going to be doing any other Lorenzo backstory. That last little bit was self contained.

NC and I are working on book III, and it will be an epic. Literally, it is going to be huge. However it is going to be a while before we start rolling it out.

the naked prophet
March 25, 2007, 03:24 PM
Do you know what causes your migraines? I read that most migraines are caused by caffeine withdrawal (caffeine is a very addictive drug...). I only know this because I have a heart condition which is sensitive to caffeine, and had severe problems when I had to give up barq's, frappucino, and chocolate. I read a lot about it, and learned some interesting things.

The worst part about people finding out you're sick is that everyone tells you how to get better!

Technosavant
March 25, 2007, 04:42 PM
Glad to hear Nightcrawler is doing fine and the security guarding went well.

Did you find a girl to assemble the .300 Win Mag rifle while you took multiple .308 rounds to the trauma plate duct-taped to your back, or was the location not quite that active? :neener: :evil: :D

Neocode
March 26, 2007, 11:39 AM
I'm just wondering why Nightcrawler just didn't use his old moniker, Gecko45.... :neener:

darkknight
March 27, 2007, 12:20 AM
Mr NightCrawler i thought we were suppose to get a story today. I cant sleep till i get one please help

mrsig
March 27, 2007, 11:51 PM
Does he still wear the special ninja boots?

Geronimo45
March 28, 2007, 12:12 AM
"Does he still wear the special ninja boots?"
Ninja boots were mostly imported to California, then sent to Mall security experts. With California's assault weapon ban, the ninja boots are technically illegal (not legal to send to other states, either). They have a pistol grip (for easier on/off), carriers for high-cap magazines, and a flash suppressor for the pouch that fits Surefire flashlights (so they don't shine in emergency SHTF mall riots). The boots have special baffles for quieter walking, thus classifying them as suppressors.

trickyasafox
March 28, 2007, 10:36 PM
ah the good life is back :)

Glock22
March 29, 2007, 03:22 PM
Nightcrawler where are you!!!!!!!!!!

Flintlock Tom
March 29, 2007, 06:46 PM
Nightcrawler,
Really like what you're doing here. Last year I cheated my employer out of many hours at my workstation, while I read Book II. Now, here I am again, switching windows back and forth, doing work and reading your posts.

May I ask about what seems to me to be an uncharacteristic lapse in security? It doesn't seem sensible for Valentine to show people he does not know the location of his storage unit. And then for the EXODUS team to show outsiders (Valentine and Austin) the location of the safehouse. Especially when they all know that the "Slavers" are aware of Valentine and his location.

Thanks for the entertainment, I hope your migraines stay in the background and keep it comin'.

cpaspr
March 29, 2007, 06:53 PM
Michael knows who, or rather what, EXODUS is. He knows they're not gonna rat out, or steal, his stash. And EXODUS knows that once he's killed people on their behalf, working with them, that he's not gonna rat them out either. And don't forget, he is, or was, the final leader of SWITCHBLADE. It's a matter of both sides really knowing exactly who they're dealing with, and not having to worry.

Flintlock Tom
March 29, 2007, 07:14 PM
I'll buy that.

But I suspect that if I was in that business I'd be way more paranoid.

Gifted
March 29, 2007, 08:28 PM
Now I want to do a sci-fi type thing. These stories are way too addictive to keep out of.

Nightcrawler
March 30, 2007, 11:25 AM
I'm going to finish the next chapter this weekend. Don't know when it'll be up, but it won't be put off until next week. Thanks for the patience.

Anyway, to some of the questions...Ling explained why they were looking to hire an outsider. The implication was that SWITCHBLADE had a good reputation in those circles; EXODUS was surprised to learn that SWITCHBLADE really didn't exist anymore.

As for Valentine's storage unit, remember that by that point EXODUS' intelligence had already compromised HIM; they knew where he was and what he looked like. After that, knowing where his stuff was wouldn't matter one way or another.

The rest is professional courtesy. Organizations like SWITCHBLADE and EXODUS don't last long if they make a habit of running to authorities. That's simply not how things are done in the underground economy.

EXODUS' safehouse was just a vacation house they rented through a front. It's a one-time-deal thing, where they rent it while they need it and then never again. There ARE permanent safe houses hidden in the United States, stations for the underground railroad, but Valentine won't learn about those unless he's formally inducted into EXODUS.

Also, remember that at least once, Val chastises himself for getting sloppy. Nobody in particular was after him when SWITCHBLADE dissolved, and he's gotten kind of soft living a normal life. As you saw, it came back to haunt him.

Mainly though, remember that if he was so paranoid and careful that he never made contact with groups like EXODUS and whatnot, I wouldn't have a story. Even I can only make the day-to-day exploits of a college sophomore seem interesting for but so long... :D

Now I want to do a sci-fi type thing. These stories are way too addictive to keep out of.

It's like you read my mind. Down the road though. ;)

Sniper4Life
March 31, 2007, 10:54 PM
I'm going to finish the next chapter this weekend

Does today qualify as weekend?????

Must not beg.................................................................(15 minutes later)..................must threaten.........

Cowgunner
April 1, 2007, 11:21 PM
I concure with that statement

Nightcrawler
April 1, 2007, 11:24 PM
I'm working on it. It'll be up tonight. I'm currently 4,800 words into Chapter 12, and it's just getting to the good part. Hang in there. :cool:

bad LT
April 2, 2007, 12:06 AM
Can't Wait!!!

Glock22
April 2, 2007, 02:06 AM
Nightcrawler will it be up in time for econ tomorrow morning? :D :D

Nightcrawler
April 2, 2007, 02:59 AM
It'll be up right now. Stand by, nobody interrupt. I've got to break it up into multiple parts. This one chapter ended up at nine thousand words! :D

Nightcrawler
April 2, 2007, 03:02 AM
12: “The Des Moines Incident”


The tension in the safe house was almost palpable. We had only hours before we were to move, and nerves were on edge. Corwin, Jeff, and I were again in the basement of the place, suiting up. Like every time before, it was a ritual that we performed in silence. I don’t know how that tradition got started, but it’s always how we did it. None of us spoke while getting our gear on.

I was wearing tiger-stripe camouflage fatigue pants bloused into combat boots and a warm black jacket. Over this I put on my body armor, a level III-A soft vest with level IV ceramic plates front and back. Over the armor, I put on my load bearing vest. It was green, and had four pouches on the chest that each held two FAL magazines. I had my SRK fighting knife lashed to the right shoulder pad, hilt down, so I could easily access it with my left hand. The load bearing vest was connected to a cordura gun belt. On my left hip was a holster for my five-inch .44, with a triple speedloader pouch just ahead of that. On my right side were pouches for several fragmentation grenades.

I pulled on a pair of black leather shooting gloves, and replaced my glasses with Wiley-X prescription goggles that both protected my eyes and wouldn’t fall off. My radio was on my belt, and I threaded the wire for the headseat through my gear before clipping the mic to my ear. I loaded my .38 Snubby, slid it into its little sheath, and stuffed it into my right pants pocket.

Corwin and Jeff both ninja-ed up. They were both dressed in black fatigue pants and jackets. Jeff’s body armor was the kind SWAT-cops use. His ammunition pouches attached directly to it through a series of snaps and straps, and he’d attached enough pouches to hold forty rounds of 12-gauge ammunition, as well as a triple magazine pouch for his pistol and a pouch for his radio. On his right leg was a drop holster holding his Beretta Elite 9mm pistol.

Corwin had a conventional body armor vest, and over this he wore a black tactical vest that held six magazines for his M4 and three magazines for his Sig 226 9mm pistol. That pistol was in a drop holster on his right leg. On his gunbelt he carried several grenades, his radio, a collapsing baton, and a combat knife of some kind.

In addition to all of that stuff, we each carried an assortment of other items that tended to prove useful while on the job. Chemical light-sticks, emergency first aid kits, multi-tools, things like that. As I turned to check Corwin’s gear and make sure everything was lashed down, I realized just how heavy all of this crap was. I grumbled to myself. I didn’t remember it being quite that bad. Our final step was to smear our faces with camouflage paint.

Satisfied, we made our way up the stairs into the main part of the house. I was interested to see what kind of gear our EXODUS comrades used on raids like this. I smiled when I realized that I was the only one not dressed in all black. I looked back at Corwin, and he grinned at me.

“Told you,” he said. I rolled my eyes and handed him a five-dollar bill. Returning my attention to EXODUS, I noticed that their weapons were almost all Russian stuff. The weird thing was that it was brand new Russian stuff, latest generation equipment that the Russian Army would be lucky to get. EXODUS must be pretty well connected, I thought, to get stuff straight off the production line like that. Both Ling’s team and Ibrahim’s were assembled in the foyer, and they were talking quietly amongst themselves.

Looking around the room one more time, I noticed Ling approaching me and smiled. She was wearing all black like her comrades, and had her hair pulled back into a pony tail. She had a radio headset on her left ear, and wore yellow-tinted shooting glasses. Her hands were covered by black leather gloves, and her armor vest fit so well that it had to have been custom made.

Slung from her chest was an Izhmash AK-102, a short-barreled Kalashnikov variant chambered for the 5.56mm NATO round. It was fitted with a Kobra collimating sight. Her CZ-75 was in a holster on her right hip.

“You rather stand out,” she said, smiling.

“Yeah, well…black really ain’t my thing. It’ll be dark anyways. How long?”

“Not long now. We’re getting ready to board the vans. Do you wish to go over the plan one more time?”

“Yeah, I do. Let’s take a walk.” Ling and I left the foyer, and walked out behind the house. There were trees surrounding the house on all sides, and the sun had already sunk below the horizon, leaving only dim twilight and a few early stars. There was little chance some passer-by would see two people decked out in combat gear and get curious.

I was curious, though, when I realized that Ling had offered to go over the plan with me, even though I was to be attached to her team, and that Ibrahim, the other team leader, wasn’t present. Weird.

The plan itself was simple enough to suit me. All plans go awry once the shooting starts, and the more complicated your plan is the more likely it is to turn into a whimsical list of stuff that never happened. In any case, we didn’t have a lot of intelligence on what to expect, as the EXODUS informant had apparently needed to bug out to avoid being exposed.

So, we didn’t know what we didn’t know, and had to work around that as best we could. What we did know was promising. It seemed the farm in question wasn’t frequently used for this sort of activity. Furthermore, the utmost discretion was required, and the clientele that frequented these types of events were not the types that would allow evidence of their activities to be left in the hands of a black market cartel.

This meant that site security would be light. There’d likely be no cameras, and as far as the EXODUS infiltrator had been able to discern, there were no motion sensors or other types of early warning equipment surrounding the property. The people that held the event were relying on physical security, guards and patrols, to provide the necessary coverage.

This also worked in our favor. The security would have to be subtle, to say the least. Outside patrols would likely be few, less some hapless farmer notice the unusual activity and get suspicious. Furthermore, many of the potential clients would be bringing personal security of their own. While this meant we’d have more bodies to deal with, it also meant that their overall security situation would likely be disorganized, uncoordinated, and inadequate.

Apparently, from the intel that Ling had gotten, the people that were selling the slaves here had gotten cocky. In other places, she told me, an event like the truck being hit in Michigan would cause the entire slave sale to be relocated and rescheduled. But EXODUS operated so rarely in the United States that the slavers seemed not to be concerned. They’d been operating with near impunity for so long that they’d gotten complacent.

You know what? Complacency kills. The farm itself was far off of the road, and the cluster of buildings were surrounded by trees, ensuring privacy. The target compound was actually away from the dairy production part of the farm, which was actually in operation. The target area consisted of the main house, a guest house, a large garage, and a few outbuildings.

There were no nearby neighbors, but the sound of gunfire can carry a long way, so we’d have to move quickly. Two EXODUS snipers would position themselves in the woods along the road that led to the farm, as would a machine gun team. A third sniper team, consisting of a shooter and a spotter, would position themselves behind the building, to the north, covering any egress from that direction. This would allow them to intercept anyone trying to flee, and give early warning of anyone coming up the road.

The two assault teams would leave the vans far behind, and approach on foot, under the cover of darkness. We’d essentially have to sneak through the pasture, which were covered with a little snow, but once we got closer to the house the trees would conceal us. Ling’s team would hit from one side, and Ibrahim’s would hit from the other. We believed that the actual sale was being held in the farm house’s substantial cellar. The informant had passed on that they’d set up an auction room of sorts in what had once been a storage room, and that this is where the event would take place.

Despite that information, we’d have to sweep the entire target area, to make sure we didn’t miss any slaves nor leave any witnesses. Fortunately, the informant had been able to confirm that the functioning dairy farm part of the place was not being used to hold any captives. This greatly simplified things for us.

I chewed my lip as Ling and I discussed the situation. I didn’t like it. There was a lot we didn’t know about the place, and a good sweep would take us a lot longer than I was comfortable with. But it had to be done. We’d just have to do the best we could.

When the shooting was over and the area was clear, we’d call in the vans and egress as rapidly as possible. The plan was simple enough, but nonetheless there was a lot that could go wrong. Despite this, Ling seemed remarkably collected. We sat together on the back porch, listening to the gentle breeze rustle the barren trees.

“Are you scared?” I asked her. I regretted it the instant the question slipped from my lips; it’s bad luck to be so negative right before a job. Ling just smiled at me though.

“I’m terrified. The last time I went on a high risk operation like this one of my people was killed, and another seriously wounded. Worse, the mission had to be abandoned, and for our failure several victims were doomed to a life of suffering. I’m afraid that my people will die. I’m afraid that we will fail.”

“But you’re not afraid for yourself,” I noted.

“I am,” she said, “but why concern myself with that when there are more important things to worry about? There are things worse than death. I have experienced some of these things. My real hope is for our mission to be successful, regardless of whether I live or die. I truly fear dying in vain.”

“Want to make it a good one, huh?” I asked, chuckling.

“What?”

“An old gunslinger once told me that you only get one death, and that you should try to make it a good one.”

“That is a good attitude, I think,” she said, looking at the stars. “What about you?”

“For the first time I can remember, I’d rather die than fail. When you’re a mercenary, you’re there for the money. The only things you care about are your teammates and getting paid. You complete the mission because that’s how you make your money. This is different, though. If we fail…Jesus, I don’t even want to think about what’ll happen to those poor people.”

“It’s refreshing to live for the sake of others, isn’t it?” she asked me, eyes shining in the darkness.

“I’m not used to it,” I said. “But yeah…I’m comfortable with what we’re going to do. Hey, I want to give you something.”

“Give me something?” Ling asked, sitting up, adjusting her rifle sling.

“Yeah, here,” I said, digging in my pants pocket. I retrieved a photograph, folded in half, and handed it to her.

“What’s this?” she asked. “Oh! It’s a picture of you! Thank you. But why?” Butterflies danced in my stomach as I realized that she’d actually thanked me for giving her a picture of myself. Dude!

“There aren’t a lot of photos of me out there,” I said, looking off into the distance. “Aside from the one you saw on TV, there are only two that I can think of. Well, recent pictures, I mean. You’re holding one of those two.”

The picture wasn’t anything special. Becky had snapped a photo of me with a disposable camera one fine Saturday while we hiking across the wooded cliffs that overlooked Marquette Harbor. I wasn’t really looking at the camera, and was holding up a bottle of water. There was a stupid grin on my face, and a Band-Aid on my forehead covering a scratch from a tree branch. It was actually a pretty bad picture.

“But why give it to me?”

“I don’t know. Proof, I guess.

“Proof?”

“Proof that I existed. If I die tonight, that photo’ll be all the legacy I’ll ever have. I just…you know.”

Ling was silent, but her eyes said plenty. She touched my arm, smiled at me, then carefully folded the picture and placed it in her pocket. She then stood up.

“Come now,” she said. “It’s almost time.”

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